Stepping into the world of Social Work

Category Archives: General/Personal

RIP R.J. Phillips, special dad

I’ve not posted much over the past few weeks for a number of reasons, most recently because the most important news was too tender to share in any depth. On May 31st, surrounded by family, my dad finally lost his battle to the combination of illnesses that had kept him in the hospital since February.

Our dads are always special to us in ways others wouldn’t see, but I’d like to believe the turnout at his service, which included people from his career (structural engineering), the church (where he had been an important member of the choir since I was very little, and in leadership positions in the vestry for almost as long), and even some friends from his youth, such as my godfather, showed that Dad was special to a lot more than just my immediate family.

I’ll miss him more than words can say…


It was twenty years ago today….

Well, maybe a little more than 20 years ago, but two things have me reminiscing this week.

First, an often neglected anniversary for any married couple, today is the 27th anniversary of the day my husband and I met. I imagine not every couple is exactly sure exactly what day they met, perhaps they were acquainted informally in school or something like that, so the date doesn’t get noted.

In my case, it did. During my junior year, a friend, believing in his psychic ability, predicted that I’d meet someone around that day. Sure enough, while chatting with my English (Science Fiction) professor before class, a shy man joined in the discussion. I learned later that this was very contrary to his normal extremely introverted behavior. We ended up having coffee together shortly thereafter, and never looked back. We moved in together after graduation, married in ’89, and I believe we have truly embodied the “for better, for worse…” We’ve had our share of practical ups and downs, but we’ve always come through together.

On another front, I’m thinking back even further, 1973-75, to be exact. I noticed a former classmate from elementary school had posted a suggestion about Teacher Appreciation Week on Facebook. I knew she had kept in touch with a few of our teachers, so I asked her if she was still in touch with our 5th grade teacher, who had been very special to me. She hadn’t heard from her in some time, but offered to give me the address of our mutual 6th grade teacher. My asking also apparently motivated her to phone this teacher as well. During that call, she learned that the 5th grade teacher had passed on (not all that surprising). She quite happily informed me that our 6th grade teacher clearly remembered me, including an incident that had stuck in my own mind.

It was a little harder to convince myself to write this teacher; while she was a very nice lady and a good teacher, she didn’t “get” me, and as a result made a few errors in relating to me. The one truly upsetting incident I recall (and she might even agree that it was a mistake) is her turning my desk over outside the classroom to force me to neaten it up. But she did try, and she deserved my appreciation for that, so I did write her a nice letter about my current life, and making a positive comment or two about her influence on my love of reading. It will be interesting to read her reply, if any.

Interestingly, my classmate reported that the teacher remembered a time where she brought all the girls together for a meeting. The teacher seemed to remember that I was being bullied and there was something about a boy. I do remember having a crush on a boy who another girl also liked, but I don’t remember it becoming a bullying issue. My own memory of the situation has more to do with handball at recess, and another girl (with a name close to mine) being the victim. Amazing what we remember, isn’t it?

This, plus the chat with the former classmate, got me thinking about what I must have been like as an 11 year old.  I remember that was a pretty tough year for me and my family. My sister’s epilepsy developed that summer, and I:began being treated for a genetic medical condition I was born with. While I had known of the condition at an age appropriate level all along,  going to Children’s Hospital of LA and being examined under a microscope every 3 months isn’t easy on a kid.

I was also a quirky kid. I have my dad’s intelligence and my mom’s stubborn nature, so certain approaches fail with me, no matter whether I am 8 or 48. I respond very badly to black and white scenarios, and being forced to “lose face,” for example. While I don’t know exactly how bad my hearing at the time was, I have always had some level of hearing impairment, which can affect my response to social situations and instructions, causing people to get wrong impressions of me. I can imagine I was frustrating to teach!

I’ll post updates later if the teacher writes me back.

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Ups and Downs

I’ve had an up and down week, with mostly ups at school and a roller coaster at work.

First, I’m very pleased with the grades I’m getting so far in my classes. I just got my Behavior midterm back – I was a little nervous because the midterm in the previous Behavior class was where I stumbled last term (if, of course, you can consider stumbling to be anything less than an A).  So I’m waiting for one other grade in that class (a much smaller assignment that involved an article critique) and will be working with my group on an assignment for the other class. I need to get started on an interview of a senior citizen, and the paper which will result from getting their life story.

In further school news, I’ll be meeting with my advisor regarding my internship placement next year in the middle of the week. I had quite a bit of paperwork to fill out, and also had to crop a couple of 2×2 photos for the purpose. I believe the meeting is to go over the paperwork and any special concerns I have regarding my placement.

At work, I’ve had some goods and bads. The unpleasant situation was a client who, after resisting every suggestion I was trying to make to help him work faster, decided he either wanted another coach or no more coaching. This would have been only mildly troubling, but my boss is one who makes things worse by immediately going for the jugular to try to figure out what I must have done wrong. I fully admit to being a fallible human being, but I also need my boss to understand that some issues are not necessarily caused by an error.

However, at the very next visit that day, I happened to receive copies of another client’s annual reviews by his employer – this year’s, which I just helped the client complete, and last year’s, a couple of months before I started with him. The difference is amazing! Obviously, the client deserves the real praise for making the improvement, but I have to believe that I must have had something to do with it, too.

I also attended a family meeting with the staff responsible for my father’s care. It looks like he is in good hands.

About Dad…

I haven’t blogged about it yet, but most people who know me are aware that my father was hospitalized at the beginning of February with a serious illness. Dad is 77, and enjoyed very good health until a shoulder injury some time back and a heart valve replacement a few years ago.

He first reported a number of non-specific symptoms and was hospitalized. I wasn’t notified until almost a week later.  I arrived at the hospital to find Dad looking pretty scary. He was able to talk, however, and was particularly concerned about giving me the passwords to their online services to help my mom with the bills. I believe he felt at the time he had suffered a stroke.

A few days later, I get a call from my mom that Dad had been taken to ICU and placed on a ventilator to “give his lungs a rest.” I was notified a week or so later that they were choosing to do a tracheotomy for the ventilator. What I heard indirectly, and from those discussions I’ve been able to have directly with the doctors, is that he has lymphoma or something in the non-Hodgkins lymphoma, leukemia, or bone marrow cancer family. The most confusing thing is that the most troubling symptoms are not cancer symptoms, rather the neurological symptoms (such as not being able to breathe!). It was another couple of weeks before I really fully understood the true nature of the situation.

After a week or two in ICU, he was moved to another ward, and improvement was very limited. My last visit to him at Presbyterian Intercommunity Hospital was rather troubling, as he couldn’t use his voice, but was clearly trying to talk to me. My aunt, who had been able to visit during times where he could cap his ventilator and use his voice, was telling me that he was increasingly less rational in what he did say, for example demanding that she take him home immediately. The nurses confirmed that they were noticing this, too.

Having a professor who is a medical social worker in this situation was amazingly comforting. Dr. Joosten, my Social Welfare instructor, helped me understand that many senior patients exhibit some loss of rationality simply due to the length of stay and the nature of such intense care. Medications, sleep deprivation, lighting and many other factors may have something to do with this, and even has the name of ICU psychosis or ICU syndrome.

In addition, I was finally given a diagnosis beyond the cancer which helped me understand the neurological symptoms. Apparently, whichever cancer he has, or a number of trivial viral conditions he could have caught over the winter,, triggered Guillain-Barre syndrome. GBS is a serious autoimmune condition, in which the body starts attacking parts of the nervous system.

The bad news, of course, is how serious these conditions are. The good news is that neither is an automatic death sentenc

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Day in the life of a job coach

This is a summary of what is a typical day for me as a job coach. This positions serves developmentally disabled adults at their workplaces,  the job coach serves as a supplemental trainer, advocate, and mentor to the clients/consumers. My roster of clients would typically be considered high functioning. Three of my clients are licensed drivers, and while all but two live with family by choice, most of them could live on their own with some level of support if they chose.

Their diagnoses vary between the different types and causes of mental retardation and autism, but my individualist approach generally does not require me to know what some doctor decided 30 years ago. What is important to me is if the person is doing their job to their employer’s standards, and what I can do to help fix any problems. Down Syndrome, autism, Asperger Syndrome, whatever specific reason someone might be receiving my services is less important than where the individual is right now in his/her training and support needs.

8:00 – arrive at first site, a home improvement chain store.  I briefly visit HR manager’s office to say hello.  She has been designated my primary contact at this site, though I also touch base with my clients’ direct supervisors as often as possible. I work with three people at this site but will only be officially visiting one today, as the others are not working.

My client works in Garden, I find her watering plants outside. We exchange a few pleasantries about the past few nights TV offerings. I double-check a few things I’ve been asked to monitor, everything is great. We chat a little further about her work and a minor matter she would like to discuss with her manager. That particular individual is clearly extremely busy this morning, so I suggest postponing that discussion for a later date.

When the consumer takes a break at 9AM, I sit down nearby to do a little of my paperwork. I check that I wrote notes for the previous days visits, adding a sentence or two to a few of them. I also log on to the company computer system as each of my clients to get their schedules for the week after next. I fiddle a bit with the written schedule I’m preparing for my visits the following week, still incomplete until I get the schedule for a client I will be seeing at the end of the day.

I spend some time slowly walking around the garden section some distance from my client. As always, her work is excellent. I observe her helping a customer find what they want and return to her watering.

I visit the HR office one more time to say goodbye and obtain a signature verifying that morning’s visit. I head over to my client to say goodbye and let her know when I will see her again.

10:00 – drive to next site. (Yes, I get paid for drive time and mileage)

This happens to be another site of the same home improvement chain I just visited. I have three clients here as well, and will be spending time with each of them.

10:30 – again, a brief visit to the HR director’s office. I confirm with her that I still have the blank annual reviews she asked me to help each client fill out (this company has the employee state their opinion of their performance on each area in writing, then the manager completes the form with his/her opinion, with an eval meeting afterwards).

I locate all of the clients in their various departments, say hello, and let them know my plan. I bring one of them back to a private room with me, as he indicates it is a relatively good time for him. We spend about half an hour going over the eval. “Work ethic and dependability is being there every day on time, taking breaks and lunch at the right time, and working hard for the whole shift. Do you think you exceed standards, meet standards, or not? Write a couple of sentences why you chose that. I’ll spell that word for you…” I slip in a few reminders of the issues he and I have been asked to work on, but ensure that the answers on the form are his own, not mine.

I finish with that client and send him back to clearing the lot of shopping carts. I spend some time observing another client in Garden, where he is sweeping up. I joke with him a bit and remind him gently about the matters I’ve been asked to work on with him. I tell him I’ll be going to lunch shortly, and need him to find me to do his review when he is done with his own lunch.

I leave the store to get some lunch. I choose fast food, and spend most of my lunch reading a novel on my Kindle Fire.

I station myself in the training room after my lunch until my client clocks back in, checking schedules on the computer and adding a note or two to various forms for a few minutes. He comes in right on time and we go through the same process as before, though this client prefers that I do the writing. This particular client is an immigrant from south Asia, and his English is somewhat limited.

We finish up, the client goes back to his work in garden and I go look for the third client. He is busy stocking in the Seasonal section, so I spend some time with him chatting and observing until he has reached the point he can come and go through the same process as the other two.

In this case, it’s a little more challenging to get privacy, as managers are gathering in the training room for an afternoon meeting, and the other two private rooms in the general area are also in use. The HR manager figures it out for us, though – she has my client bring a light table into a network server room nearby.

When we’re done, it’s time for his lunch, and very near the end of my visit, so I spend a few minutes wrapping up my visit with managers, saying goodbye to the clients, and writing a few sentences as notes for each client.

2:30 – drive to last site

I then drive to my last site for the day, a supermarket, where my client is a courtesy clerk. She is doing a fantastic job overall, so much so that she doesn’t really want me there. In fact, most of the time I get the silent treatment. She’s busy bagging when I get there, so I just say hello and head to the back room to get her schedule for the next week. I come back out and observe her from a distance, to avoid distracting her or confusing customers.

I try to engage her in a little bit of conversation when she’s not too busy.  She tells me she is unhappy with the schedule she has received. I talk to her about why she doesn’t like it, and suggest that we talk with the manager who writes the schedule so he is aware of her preferences. She mentions a point in the past where she had apparently already done this, and names an individual I do not know (I’m not sure if it’s a previous job coach or job developer from my agency, or a case manager from one of our funding agencies). She seems rather put out that I don’t know this person.

I remind her that scheduling preferences like that can get lost or forgotten over time, and confirm with a lead cashier that I had the right manager in mind to discuss the matter with. The client then says “never mind” and appears very annoyed with me. I’m not sure if it’s because I don’t know who the person is she referred to earlier, that I’m not equally outraged that her preferences have been forgotten, or that I’m expecting her to be part of the process (that I don’t just talk to the manager without her).

Particularly at her level of competence, it is very important that I do everything I can to facilitate her independence on these matters. If I just slip upstairs and get her schedule changed for her, that gives her and everyone else the wrong message. My role, in my opinion, is to model and instruct her in the best way of handling these things, encouraging her to handle them on her own when possible, rather than taking them on myself.  I also remind myself that the schedule difference is fairly minor and not an absolute (such as if there would be no transportation home for her, or a conflict with some personal commitment).

The last few minutes, I find a place to sit down where I can still see the client bagging groceries, and complete my planned schedule for the next week and the last remaining notes, as well as my time sheet and mileage for the day. I get a final signature for this visit and say goodbye to the client and the managers.


4:30 – I head home to relax. 🙂

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Time to reflect….

I’m sure I’m not the only one making a reflective post this time of year… I thought it would be helpful to my own state of mind even if nobody reads it.

at this time last year, I had just left employment. I’ve happily fixed that situation, though the job I have is not a career builder. I’ve realized most recently that at this point I really shouldn’t even expect to find a better job, as the one I have has the flexibility to go part-time in the fall when I start my internship.

At this time last year, I was working hard on MSW applications. Happily, that effort paid off! After completing the first semester of classes, I’m very happy with my decisions in that regard. In fact, I received news recently that made me even happier that I chose USC – a former co-worker/manager with whom I did not get along would have been in my cohort (and perhaps some of my classes) at CSUN, which would have been quite uncomfortable. I’m now 1/6 of the way through an excellent program and am trying to pat myself on the back for getting in and a good showing my first semester.

At this time last year I was out of work and very angry about the situation. Having found another job and used the time out of work to get into grad school,  I can look back with some acceptance. Don’t get me wrong – I have not completely forgiven certain individuals for their treatment of me, but I can hold my head up over where I am and where I am going.

It has been a rough year – my husband is also out of work, my car was totaled in a nasty car accident, I had cataract surgery and will need the other eye done as well. We learned that my brother-in-law is in the hospital with a broken hip,  which will be a long haul for him. But I think I’m proving to myself that I can get through these things and come out better than before.


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First semester DONE!

As of yesterday, I am closing the book on my first semester of graduate school It has been an amazing start! Final papers were turned in a couple of weeks ago, and I know one of my grades for sure and am pretty certain about the other. 🙂

In Policy, our last paper was to study a social service agency and discuss an unmet need of the population served. I had hoped to do it on a Regional Center, but owing to lost e-mails I had to study my own agency. Unfortunately, management was uncomfortable giving me some of the information I needed for the paper, but since time was too short by that time I did what I could based on my personal knowledge and observation. I must have done pretty well, as the grade I received was good. I don’t know my official grade for that class, but the arithmetic is pretty clear.

The other paper, for Behavior, was actually rather fun. We were given a choice of 3 movies (others on approval) and to study one of the characters using each of the theories covered in class. I was very worried about this class since I hadn’t done all that well (by USC School of Social Work standards, anyway) on the midterm. One of the best things was that a movie on the list (Stand By Me) is one of my favorites, and one my husband likes too, so it wasn’t a big deal to watch it a couple of times. I got the paper back in the mail yesterday, and did reasonably well on the paper and in my final course grade.

My classes next semester seem to be “part two” from each of the fall courses, though I will end up with different instructors. I’m looking forward to the new instructors, as the two I had last semester were OK but not excellent.

One, my policy instructor, was a fantastic man who could tell stories about knowing Martin Luther King and Mother Theresa, as well as his time as a Freedom Rider. Unfortunately, some of these wonderful stories would get in the way of his lecture points. The other was almost certainly a superb therapist, but seemed to be too strongly invested in one set of psychological theories and ended up confusing some of us in discussions of the others.

One thing I am appreciating very much about the early end of the semester is that I have plenty of time to breathe and enjoy the holidays.  The next semester starts the second week of January, so I can rest and get some things done around the house that I’ve neglected.

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What I did right

Now I’m in the thick of my first semester, I know others are gearing up to the application process for next year, so I thought I’d give some thought to what I did “right” in my application process last winter.

On a personal level, I think an important factor is that I chose the right direction. A few years ago I applied to a school psychology program, but was not admitted. After spending more than a month with this curriculum, it’s a much better fit for me than school psych would have been. Perhaps the program that rejected me also saw that.

While I didn’t start the application process until after Christmas, I did put full energy into it at that point. I made the deadlines at all three schools I wanted to apply for.

I worked very hard on my writing samples/statements of purpose/essays and am still proud of the work I did on them.

Applying to 3 schools was a good decision – not too many, and not too few. I knew one of them was a long shot and not the best match for me anyway, one was an excellent match but expensive, another was the least expensive (and really close) but perhaps not perfectly matched to my needs. I was accepted by two and chose the more expensive option but good personal match in the end. I did have a couple of other Cal States available if something had gone wrong in the other application processes.

All in all, I’m still very pleased with my decision and where I have ended up.

More later on what I would do differently…

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You know you’re a job coach if:

Here is something I wrote some time back as a joke among co-workers.

You know you’re a job coach if:

1. You’ve attended the new-employee orientation for a company multiple times but never received a paycheck from them

2. You refer to particular stores as “Mark’s Target” or “Anita’s Ralphs.”

3. If doing business at a store where you have clients, you make sure you’re not buying anything “sensitive” – feminine hygiene, underclothing, alcohol (or you go out of your way to visit a different store where you don’t have clients)

4. You have to resist the urge to “coach” your courtesy clerk when shopping for your own groceries (you’ve been a job coach too long if you DON’T resist)

5. You can state distances between various local retail centers/malls from memory

6. You know  lunch/coffee options on any given route off hand

7. You visit a restaurant and note how nicely the silverware is rolled

8. You know how to do paperwork in some interesting positions – leaning against walls, check stands, etc.

9. You see an advertisement on television and immediately think of how the promotion will affect your clients

10. You have a Bachelors Degree and years of experience but make less money than at least one of your clients

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Lucy, you’ve got some ‘splainin’ to do!

I haven’t introduced them formally, but Hubby and I are the “parents” of four furry critters – two dogs and two cats. All but one are shelter rescues from local city shelters.

Lucy is our  smallest, a small grey and white kitty girl around 3 years old. We adopted her from the East Valley animal shelter 2 years ago. She is a loving girl, but not a lap cat, and has plenty of catitude to spare. She gets along well with the dogs but not our other cat, interestingly.  She and our other cat are allowed to go outdoors, not because we want it that way, but because our dogs use a doggy door and the cats always figure it out.

She does have a tendency to disappear for a while if she’s mad at something or has a squabble with Leo (our other cat) but she does typically come back when it’s time to eat.  She usually insists on some attention in the morning while I’m on the computer, and in the evening she’ll ask for her “kitty drugs.”

Sunday morning, I noticed she hadn’t come in for her usual breakfast and loving, but I figured she would be in later. I started to get worried Sunday night and Monday. Tuesday I walked around the neighborhood but didn’t see Lucy.  In hindsight, I did notice the house we found her on,  but there were people in the front yard that probably made Lucy hide.

This evening, DH suggested we take a walk around the block to see if we find her. I called while we walked about a block, to the area that approximately shares back fences with our house (an easy visit for a kitty). Gary points to the roof of a two story house – there, indeed, is our little girl.

Lucy was clearly glad to see us, meowing so loudly even I could hear her. We tried for a few minutes to coax her down on her own power, but realized she might be feeling a little weak if she hadn’t eaten since Saturday. A kind neighbor had a ladder, but she wouldn’t come to the neighbor or even to Gary. I finally climbed up, and with the help of kitty treats, grabbed her and c a r e f u l l y climbed down the ladder. I held on to her for dear life as we walked home, where Miss Catitude proceeded to eat an entire bowl of cat food and yell at me periodically.

So how do you ground a 3 year old with claws? And why is Leo (the other cat) looking annoyed and a little guilty?

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