I must confess. I was a little nervous when I found that my first internship would be serving seniors with the non-profit organization FiftyForward. Not that internships, seniors or non-profits particularly scare me, no, the part that made me anxious was the questions.
Would I enjoy this type of work? How would I relate to my clients, and how would they relate to me? You know, the kind of self-centered questions that plague us all as we embark on a new journey in our life. I wondered too about the levels of stress and burnout that face many social workers while serving the deserved. Would my placement as an intern be emotionally draining and ultimately discouraging when seeing the challenges and unmet needs facing the many older adults in Middle Tennessee?
I can tell you that looking back on my time with our senior community has been nothing but a complete joy. I saw time after time how our community's older generation sets the example in being thankful for what they receive and generous in how they give. In most cases, those who needed FiftyForward services were able to access them and were grateful for the assistance. Instead of keeping me at arm's length, they shared with me their hopes, their fears and their dreams. They came to me with hands out, not for what they might get, but to partner with me to address their needs.
In addition to being able to learn from my clients, I had the opportunity to receive training and mentorship from some of the finest social workers that money doesn't buy. Their dedication is not so much to the job or work - it's to the people they serve. While upholding the highest level of professional conduct and boundaries, the people I worked with figuratively poured themselves out for their clients. We are taught in school to give our clients the same amount of energy that they give us. This means if a client is trying really hard to overcome a problem, we match that level of effort and try really hard to serve them as best we can. It was my experience that this is not an equation based on effort, but based on human dignity, respect and experience.
The staff of FiftyForward respects and holds their clients in high regard. This positive energy is reflected back from the members and clients so that amazing care and services can happen. I am so fortunate to have seen that firsthand. It may sound like a stretch, but amidst all the problems in the world today that my education has opened my eyes to, these relationships have simply reinstated my hope for humanity.
I know that I received more from my time at FiftyForward than I ever gave as an intern, and I am so thankful for my many positive experiences. I was able to confirm my desire to serve in the field of gerontology and now look forward to my next level of challenges. I saw firsthand how clients are the experts on themselves (not us), and they should be regularly consulted on what best would help them to lead happy and productive lives. And mostly, I saw from my colleagues and the members they serve the kind of person I want to grow to become.
David Lowell Crouch is a University of Tennessee Social Work intern at FiftyForward. For information on FiftyForward resources, services and centers, please visit www.FiftyForward.org.