Meet the 2020 MSW Spirit of Social Work Award Winner: Joyelle Gaines

By Daria Richards, GSSW Intern
April 16, 2020
Joyelle 2
When her husband proposed, he did so with her deposit for Baylor. He told her he would always support her and never get in the way of her dreams.

Lucky for her, and for those whose lives she’s touched since, this promise made to Joyelle Gaines was kept, and is a gift that carries with it an impact that continues to this day.

After growing up in Newark, New Jersey and attending Saint Vincent College in Pennsylvania, Gaines discovered what she wanted to do with her life in a distinct moment her senior year. She was working as a research assistant when she explained her career aspirations to her supervisor Dr. Junlei Li, who immediately told her what social work was and the available opportunities in the field.

“Even though I was a little upset I didn’t know about it sooner, it actually turned out that my four years spent in psychology, communication and children’s studies at Saint Vincent thoroughly prepared me for the social work field,” Gaines said.

It wasn’t long until she wound up in Houston, Texas to pursue her trio of passions via a master’s degree in Social Work. Gaines was drawn to Baylor because she places a high value on supporting the “whole person,” and the GSSW was somewhere this idea was shared.

“Baylor incorporated something that other schools didn’t – the role of faith and spirituality in human development and the impact they have on the systems they reside in,” she said. “I was really interested in learning about how different spiritual beliefs, or no spiritual beliefs impact the decisions and experiences of the lives of the individuals I am working with.”
Social work has taught me there is not one place where we are not needed.

While her faith has always been important to her, Gaines realized something new about what it looks like to be a steward of God’s grace through the lens of social work.

“My perspective has shifted from the idea that ‘I have a gift and passion that God gave me,’ to ‘I have this big responsibility that God is trusting me with,’” she said. “I am realizing the responsibility that is on my shoulders both as a believer and a social worker goes beyond what I am passionate about in my calling (although that helps) and challenges my ability to steward over what God is trusting me to do when I am working to support his people on a daily basis.”

Some of the many ways Gaines has pressed into this responsibility include her roles as a research assistant for Sarah Ritter through the SERVE grant, a research assistant for Danielle Parrish for two years and a student representative on the Field Education Advisory Council Board.

She has also completed two internships; one with Spring Spirit Baseball where she supported the education and mentoring departments through academic assistance and psychoeducational support to students, and another with Small Step where she facilitated play therapy for children, offered social and emotional interventions in the classroom and led psychoeducational events.

“Social work has taught me there is not one place where we are not needed,” she said.

Most recently, Gaines has found a new need and devised a project of her own: The Joy Store. Bearing resemblance to both her name and the emotions it will bring, this new Houston Campus food pantry aims to reduce hunger-related barriers to health, learning and wellbeing for Houston students.

It’s hard to imagine that her professors and colleagues are surprised by this new endeavor. One professor describes her as an “outstanding advocate [who]” faces adversity with courage, notices the needs of others and works to create solutions for herself and her peers.”

Throughout her time and efforts building and experiencing a culture of community at Baylor, Gaines has gleaned some wisdom about the categories of macro and micro social work.

“I don’t have to be married to one type of social work because the human experience requires someone who is well versed in all areas, and truthfully that’s what separates us from other mental health professionals,” she said. “In my field, my macro knowledge informed my micro practice and my micro practice helped me consider what I need to advocate for in macro settings.”

Just as these two practices can intertwine with infinite possibilities, so do Gaines’ future aspirations. Her current dream position is to offer psychoeducational trainings and presentations to organizations that are supporting the populations she is passionate about: children, families and people of color.
I am so touched and stunned that Baylor staff and colleagues saw the title of this award and thought about me. As a black woman and student, I feel seen. As a social worker, I feel validated. As a believer of Christ, I feel blessed that even in my brokenness God still used me in ways I didn’t even realize.

“I would love to be in a position where I can do research on evidence-based literature and present to stakeholders in schools, religious institutions and other organizations on how they can support the populations they work with more effectively,” she said.

As someone who has been described as going beyond her required classroom learning and setting an example of what commitment to integrity and human relationships should look like, Gaines has been named the Garland School of Social Work’s MSW Spirit of Social Work Award winner.

Gaines said this would not have happened without the support of her friends and family, specifically her grandmothers who demonstrated what stewardship, love, kindness and support can really look like.

“I am so touched and stunned that Baylor staff and colleagues saw the title of this award and thought about me,” she said. “As a black woman and student, I feel seen. As a social worker, I feel validated. As a believer of Christ, I feel blessed that even in my brokenness God still used me in ways I didn’t even realize. Receiving this award has given me validation and assurance that I am right where I need to be, and I feel blessed to have found this kind of purpose.”
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