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Social work students move from 'bubble' to reality

Sept. 17, 2003

By Erica DeLeon, reporter

Whether through welfare, child protective services or counseling, social workers help those who need it most.

'It seems like social workers have a sense of calling and interest in working with people that others aren't interested in working with,' Dr. Dennis Myers, professor of social work, said. 'When everyone else walks out, social workers walk in.'

Myers began his career in social work as a counselor for families with developmentally challenged children. After five years as a counselor, he went back to college to earn a doctorate in social work. He became a professor because it provided flexibility to pursue other interests.

'The real joy of teaching is linking up with a life that is in the informative process and becoming a part of that process,' Myers said.

Baylor's Department of Social Work prepares students for leadership and service in the community while upholding values and integrity.

Christine Lee, a Houston graduate student, began at Baylor as a biology/pre-med major but soon realized 'it really wasn't what the Lord really wanted [her] to do.'

After consulting with an adviser, Lee changed her major to social work.

'I come from a pretty middle class town,' Lee said. 'Social work opened my eyes that homelessness and poverty are real issues. Most people don't know about it unless they seek out to find it.'

Lee said her parents were uneasy about the change. They worried about their daughter's choice and if that was really what she wanted to do in life.

'They were not as thrilled as me being a physician,' Lee said.

Pursuing an undergraduate degree in social work at Baylor provided Lee with an array of experiences in poverty and child abuse, she said. She worked with an outreach program for Mission Waco that met with elementary students living in poverty. Lee had a steady group of 12 children that she met with weekly.

'It's really amazing the relationships you build and how open the children are for a change in their life,' Lee said.

Social work students are required to volunteer in a service-learning project. Through a contract between Baylor and Waco Child Protective Services, Lee joined a supervisor to perform home visits, which reveal living conditions and how parents treat their children. She even visited schools to meet with the children to see if and how they were being abused. Lee said she encountered neglect, sexual abuse and physical abuse. She saw how the children reacted when they described the abuse afflicted on them.

'I remember one child was very scared to tell us what was going on,' Lee said. 'Some of them are really afraid that if they say anything, they'll get beaten even worse. Some are very secluded and lonely, but others will fight for help.'

Social workers are not limited to aiding people through their community. Many social issues deal with state and federal legislation in health care for children, welfare and mental health of senior citizens. Social workers lobby for issues at state capitols and act as advocates for those the legislation affects most.

'It hurts deep down inside to know that people are suffering,' Lee said. 'But as a social worker, I know I have venues to change that.'

'A lot of people are interested in issues of poverty and welfare,' Dr. Jon Singletary, assistant social work professor, said. 'But it's social workers who usually feel a calling to make a difference in situations.'