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Summer program at UA teaches foster teens about social work careers, service

By Chris Pow, al.com

TUSCALOOSA, Alabama — A program in its second year at the University of Alabama is teaching teens in foster care about careers in social work and giving them the opportunity to work in the community with local agencies.

Sebrena Jackson, founder and program director of National Social Work Enrichment Program, said the six-week program gives high school students from across Alabama an opportunity to be exposed to college life and teaches them about social work as a potential college major and career.

“A key component is our partnership with local agencies, where the students get an opportunity to actually have a work experience, a paid internship or volunteer experience for the summer so they can be exposed to different populations where social workers serve,” Jackson said.

Agencies where students have been serving include The Arc, Tuscaloosa One Place, the Boys and Girls Club, the YMCA, Phoenix House and West Alabama AIDS Outreach. At last year’s camp, students worked with the Tuscaloosa Volunteer Reception Center and other agencies to help to provided services to tornado victims.

The students, who moved into dorms on June 4 for the camp, are also learning skills including personal finance and leadership.

Jackson, who founded the NSEP program in 2008 at Albany State in Georgia, said the students are transitioning to the Alabama Department of Human Resources’ Independent Living Program, which is aimed at providing older youth in foster care with skills to move forward as adults.

Many students write about their hope to make a difference in others’ lives in a one-page paper that is required to join the program, Jackson said.

“I would think that because of their life experience, naturally they’re a little more interested in social work,” Jackson said. “If they have a great social worker, most of them remember that and want to give back and help another young person like themselves.”

Leosha Glasper, a camp participant from Montgomery who attended Robert E. Lee High School, said a career in social work would give her the chance to help others who have had similar experiences.

“I just feel like this is a way for me to give back because my social worker gave me the opportunity to get back in school, get a job — things that my parents didn’t give me,” Glasper said. “And it’s a way for me to reach out and help kids who were in the situations I was in when I was younger.”

For many students, the program gives them a broader view of social work careers.

“A program like this helps students to see the other side of what social workers have to do, because many of them don’t know what their social worker has to experience just to provide services for them and to help them.” Jackson said. “And when they learn more details, they come to have another level respect, I think.”

Glasper said she discovered that there was more to the field than she thought. She said she is more interested in social work careers after learning more about them.

“There’s more for you to stay for,” Glasper said. “If you get tired of one thing, you can move to another with that same degree.”

Jackson said there is an increasing need for professional social workers.

“If you look at any Department of Labor reports, social workers are one of the fastest-growing occupations through 2016,” Jackson said. “We’re growing really fast, specifically because of the aging population, because we have so many baby boomers retiring.”


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