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Social Workers Month

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The roots of social work were well established by industry greats like Jane Addams and Eleanor Roosevelt in the early 1900’s, known as the age of reform. Social Work was slowly changing the lives of the immigrant population fresh to the new world. Churches and other religious organizations were the establishments that took charge in this local area helping those less fortunate by way of orphanages, community hospitals for the poor and ill and advocating for anyone unable to care for themselves. Today, these saint-like roles have been replaced by what we know today as social workers. I had the pleasure of briefly talking with one of these modern-day- saints for Social Workers month 2018. Melizza Esperanza, MSW with Sharp HospiceCare, opened up about her role as a Palliative Social Worker and her vision for Social Work in general. Melizza has worked for Sharp HospiceCare as a social worker since 2015, though she started as an intern in 2013, an SDSU alumnus that has had her finger on the pulse of the community for a long time before then. Melizza began her career volunteering in multiple areas from migrant workers to women’s shelters. She focused a lot of her interest in the elderly and mental health.

Q: What are some of the challenges you have faced when helping people in your line of work?

A: We [social workers/case managers] give theory, but when it comes to preparing internally, they [clients] don’t know how to put the coping skills into practice. Many of our clients fall into the financial gap, where they make too much to qualify for much needed social programs, but earn too little to afford the help they desperately need.

Q: What made you choose social work and did you realize how difficult it would be?

A: My father was a social worker, so I came into this well prepared with eyes wide open. My father provided me with honest opposing views on becoming a social worker because he knew first hand the challenges and bureaucracy social workers face when trying to do their jobs. I was well aware of what the job entailed.

Q: What encouraged you to choose Hospice/Palliative Care?

A: I chose Hospice/Palliative care because of the support clients receive in this area. I also provided Bereavement support to the Spanish speaking clients and helped families with their journey through hospice care, passing and beyond. Sharp HospiceCare has robust Bereavement services that help those grieving learn effective ways to cope with their grief and loss and return to a focus on living.

Services include:

  • Bereavement classes and support groups through out San Diego
  • Community education and assistance with issues such as sudden and traumatic loss, adolescent grief and healing, and grief in the workplace
  • Family and individual counseling for adults, adolescents and children who are survivors of the hospice patient
  • Telephone support by a bereavement counselor to provide assessment, reassurance and, comfort
  • Memory Bear Program to help bring comfort to you and your loved ones

In addition, Bereavement services are free for Sharp HospiceCare families for up to 13 months after the death of a loved one and may be used regularly, either during a crisis or for short-term support. Community
services are also provided to those without a prior Sharp HospiceCare

Q: Are there any heroes or mentors that have influenced the way you provide service and your career in general?

A: I had a mentor, Maureen Piwowarski, who passed last year. She constantly encouraged me to keep moving forward. She said, “Do what you gotta do to connect with the client.” Maureen always put her best forward when working with clients. She always had a kind word about anything, even something minute like nail polish, anything to help her clients feel at ease with her and trust her. Anything to let them know she saw them.

Q: How do you see the discipline of Social Work changing in the years to come?

A: That all depends on social and welfare programs. I hope we [social workers] can lead the way with policy change. Social Workers need more support from the system; I came across the need for policy change after graduating. All social workers need guidance on how to advocate for social change.

Undoubtedly, the influence a social worker has on society as a whole is one that can bring peace and healing if the services are rendered available to all who need them. Connection to resources can only happen if we consider the work they have before them. Social Workers are men and women that help reinforce the fabric of our society regardless of gender, sexual orientation, age, health condition and economic standing. I celebrate these men and women and thank them for their tireless passion and desire to help all those who can’t help themselves.

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