GOSO is staffed by a dedicated team of licensed social workers. In honor of Social Work Month, we asked our team members to discuss their passions for their profession and reflect on their experiences at GOSO. In the first part of this series, Sarah Blanco speaks about how she chose her career and the transformative potential of social work.
What motivated you to become a social worker?
As an undergrad, I was trying to figure out a major and serendipitously chose social work. Following graduation, I moved to L.A. and worked with individuals who were homeless and had severe mental illnesses. I realized my strengths and passions were working with disenfranchised populations. I was deeply gratified and humbled by the work and the clients. I realized I needed to get my MSW so I could provide more in-depth direct services to clients and take on a leadership role in community-based organizations.
Where did you go to school and where else have you worked?
I received my BSW from Virginia Commonwealth University, MSW from UC-Berkeley and then received advanced clinical training at the National Institute of Psychotherapies (NIP.) I have held different positions but primarily worked in mental health. I have done homeless outreach, worked on and then managed a mobile crisis team, worked on an ACT team, and a crisis resolution team. Prior to GOSO, I was the Senior Clinical Director at Harlem United. I also have a private practice.
What are the challenges and rewards of social work?
The rewards far outweigh the challenges. The rewards are when you see a person transform; when they start achieving their goals and you witness their self-confidence and self-worth improve. The challenges are primarily systemic–lack of resources, punitive laws and systems that make it difficult for clients to make money, get a job and find stable housing. Without these basic needs being met, it can be challenging to work with clients on other issues (whether it’s education, their emotional issues, etc.).
How long have you been with GOSO and what about its mission is meaningful to you?
I’ve been with GOSO since November 2014. The mission is powerful and meaningful because it starts clients on a journey of self-exploration and self-examination. GOSO offers an abundance of resources and alternatives that fosters financial independence and reduces the likelihood of recidivism. Being a GOSO client can be a life changer, as our holistic approach and licensed social workers allow us to meet clients where they are at and work with them through their successes and setbacks.
What is one of your fondest memories working with GOSO clients?
I’m not sure if this is one of my fondest moments, but it was definitely the most moving. I was working with a young man, and he was very closed-off and guarded. His first few weeks at GOSO were challenging. He wanted to be at GOSO but he couldn’t trust that what we (staff) said and did was real–that somehow we would not come through. The entire staff supported the client and provided the positive reinforcement that his efforts and commitment to making change in his life were noticed and important. Over a month’s time, he went from a sullen distrustful young man who would only talk to me, to coming in daily and stopping by everyone’s office to talk and share his triumphs and struggles. One day he came in to my office and said, “GOSO is the only place I feel good. You all watch out for me” and then he started to sob. His history of trauma and abandonment made it hard for him to trust others, GOSO staff provided a reparative experience so he could start to engage in relationships and believe that he was smart, funny and someone people could respect.
What advice do you have for someone considering a career in social work?
Self-care! As a social worker, you witness a lot of human suffering, and this can take a toll on your mental and physical health and impact the quality of your life and relationships. All social workers need to find something–therapy, exercise, time with friends and family, whatever works, so that they can de-stress and maintain balance in their lives.