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Your Life Calling

Turning Heartache Into Hope Live Chat

If you missed the chat with Jane and her guests Sylvia Abrego-Araiza and Tracy Whitaker, you can catch the conversation here.

Today’s participants:

Jane Pauley, AARP’s Brand Ambassador

Sylvia Abrego-Araiza, Licensed Chemical Dependency Counselor

Tracy Whitaker, Director of the Center for Workforce Studies & Social Work Practice at the National Association of Social Workers

This transcript has been edited for clarity.

Jane Pauley: Hello everyone! Thanks for joining us. I hope you enjoyed our Today Show segment this morning featuring Sylvia Abrego-Araiza. Sylvia’s career in counseling troubled teens was a lifetime in the making.

She’d always loved helping others – growing up as one of ten children taught her that. But it wasn’t until later in life that she discovered social work as a way to apply that passion to a career. Social work is becoming quite a popular encore career, especially for the purpose-driven boomer generation. It’s a great way to give back and find fulfillment of your own.

Sylvia joins us in the chat today, along with Tracy Whitaker, the Director of the Center for Workforce Studies & Social Work Practice at the National Association of Social Workers. Truly an expert in her field. We’re going to be talking about social work later in life – be it through an entirely new career or a volunteer opportunity.

Hi, Sylvia and Tracy! Great to have you with us this afternoon.

Tracy Whitaker: Hi Jane, Thanks for inviting me to participate.

Sylvia Abrego-Araiza: Good morning, Jane. It is a pleasure to be participating in this chat.

Comment from Rachel: What are the big trends in the social work field these days?

Whitaker: Hi Rachel. There are several growing trends in social work. Working with older adults is going to grow as Baby Boomers age. Also, there will be increased opportunities to work with military families and veterans. We also expect work with children and in behavioral health to grow. Also, there is renewed interest in working with people returning from the criminal justice system, as well as with those who are incarcerated. Victims of disasters will also need more social workers to help rebuild the social support in their affected communities.

Comment from Lisa: Sylvia, how much schooling did you need when you went back to class to become a social worker?

Abrego-Araiza: Good morning, Lisa. I obtained an Associate’s degree and needed additional drug and alcohol classes, which I acquired through a proprietary school licensed by the Texas Workforce Commission. Overall it was 2 years of education to qualify for a counselor intern position. Then I accrued 4000 paid internship hours and took 2 state tests (written and oral) before obtaining a license for chemical dependency counseling.

Pauley: My question for Tracy is this: Is social work a field where (training being equal) someone older with life experience might be more effective?

Whitaker: Jane, social work is a field that requires knowledge, skill and good judgment. Most social workers choose to work directly with people, and years of life experience can definitely be an advantage. Especially now, we see more seniors helping seniors. But years of experience can be useful in working with all age groups.

Comment from Liz: Hi Jane. I am 44 as of today. After being a substitute teacher for the past ten years so that I had the opportunity to stay home and raise my children, I am back into my career (as of yesterday). My career is in social work, dealing with troubled teens and their families as an In-Home Counselor. I received my Master’s of Social Work back in December 1996. My goals are to become a licensed social worker and a certified substance abuse counselor but both of these goals require two years or more of supervision hours and an extensive amount of full-time hours working directly with teens and families. I have always felt called to work in this field and with this population but I am concerned that I am getting too old and my goals of becoming licensed will never come to be (especially since I am already so far behind the eight-ball). A dear friend of mine told me about your chat today and the wonderful woman who just received her substance abuse certification and is now working with teens. I understand she will be on your show today. I am hoping you can offer some wisdom on how to tame my concerns and how to confidently start on the track of licensure when I am not getting any younger. Thank you.

Whitaker: Hi Liz, happy birthday! Since you already have your MSW, you are much closer to your goal than you might imagine. You may be able to find employment where you'll be able to gain some of the supervision hours you need. Please continue to pursue this goal. So many teenagers and their families are in need and your work with them will be appreciated and rewarding. Don't give up.

Pauley: Liz, had you said you were 54 or 64, I would still have said, “Go for it!” You are likely to have two, if not three, productive decades ahead of you. A two-year investment in education now will pay dividends for years to come.

And that’s not to mention the young lives who you will help or if you don’t take this step, who will not benefit from your generosity, wisdom and skills. Good luck to you.

Comment from Cindy: Sylvia, don’t these kids’ stories break your heart? How do you deal with the emotions this job probably brings up?

Abrego-Araiza: Yes, the kids’ stories are very heartbreaking. I deal with the emotions very carefully, as there are many sensitive issues that need to be handled with care. At times it is difficult for me to hold back my emotions and it is during these times that the compassion comes through and I reach the youth at a point where they need it most. I also ensure that my spiritual needs are met in order to regain my strength.

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