Social Work in Action: Partners in Kind

Social Work in Action: Partners in Kind

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Hi, I am Melissa Pietrkiewicz. I am part of the alumni class of 2002 at the
University at Buffalo School of Social Work. Right now, I am employed by Erie 2 Boces Maple
Academy, which is an alternative education program. We have middle schoolers to high schoolers. Partners in Kind is a community group, and
I use the word group loosely because we’re a movement, and ultimately, we started as
a Facebook group and what was happening was that, just like social workers everybody has
something that they specialize in, everybody has a gift to give, and not everybody has
money. Maybe there are people in our group that are
a stay at home mom, and they have the time to go hang flyers for us. You know, and so what I’m trying to get
away from is that everyone thinks that when we give we have to pay and we have to buy,
and what giving needs to be more of is coming together as a community and letting people
see that we are the change, and walking the walk and talking the talk at the same time. A couple of the projects that we’ve done
so far are we collected feminine hygiene products. Chautauqua county has a very large homeless
and transient population that walks the creek in the summertime, and so we wanted to make
sure that during that time of the month these women were given the means to menstruate with
dignity. Which is an issue that not a lot of people
are paying attention to. It is also no question that there is an opioid
crisis, and what we’re taking a look at is the kids that are being affected by that. The kids that are being pulled out of these
homes and they can’t bring anything with them because their bedroom had a meth lab
underneath it. And that’s not okay in my book, not as a
social worker, not as a mom, not as a woman, not as a human being. So, our June project we looked to our community
to do a drive where we did book bags, and then we filled the book bags with slippers,
pajamas, hygiene products, stuffed animals, arts and crafts activities, so that when you
have a child who is pulled from this circumstance when they’re brought to a foster home or
brought to someone for a safety plan they have something that feels like home to them
still. We do a lot of things with our kids, so right
now as you pulled in you saw the hats and the gloves that are on the line. And that’s a really easy way that makes
a huge difference in our community because there’s not a lot of public transit, so
we have a lot of people that are walking and they’re cold. You know, if it comes between them or buying
hats and gloves for their kids, they’re going to buy them for their kids. And so, we want to make sure that people that
are out there that are struggling know that there’s help here for them, and it keeps
their pride in tact too because they’re not signing up somewhere to get this help
for their family, they can literally just walk up to one of our food pantry boxes, or
one of our diaper stashes, or one of our hats and gloves on line and take it. Okay, so the piece that I’m most excited
about is when we’re talking about the opioid crisis is that for our holiday giving we are
doing a remember the magic event, and we’ve opened it up to all kids who have been affected
by loss. Santa is going to pick them up in a limo,
and they’re going to come back to a local gym that is a huge community partner to us
and we’re going to just have an afternoon where things don’t have to feel so sad. This holiday is going to be hard for a lot
of area families that were hit with loss, and we want to instill that hope again. So, there will be presents, there’s going
to be hot chocolate, and there’s just going to be fun and giving kids an opportunity to
feel like kids again. So, some of the things that we’re trying
to do here at the Academy at Maple Avenue to make it more trauma-informed is right now
we’re working with the Western New York Food Bank, we’re trying to establish ourselves
as a food bank site. What the research says about people with trauma
is that they’re activated, and you know if someone’s activated and their fight or
flight is kicking in obviously, they’re not going to learn. So, what we did is we kind of peeled a layer
off of that, and what we’re trying to do is meet kids where they’re at. Making sure that they have clean clothes,
we’re getting a washer and dryer. Giving them an opportunity to shower, to wash
their hair, to start fresh when they walk in our school. There’s a lot of community service that’s
getting done through Partners in Kind in this school, and what that’s doing is having
these students feel connected to their community because what we know so often with trauma
is that it isolates people. And the other big thing that we’re doing
besides meeting the basic needs is developing a sense of community through that service
and having our students be proud of where they come from, knowing that they have an
opportunity to change their life and utilizing us as a tool to get them there. The other big part of that is that they’re
sharing their stories, and that we’re not talking to them like victims, we’re empowering
them to be survivors, and creating opportunities for them to share and hopefully inspire some
of our younger kids, who are going through some of the same things that they are and
showing them I can get through this, you can get through this too, and I’m going to help
you. Social work at times can feel that we’re
very confined to our job, and our roles and the regulations and the policies, and the
beautiful thing that I’m seeing most in my life with a MSW, is that you can do anything
with it. You know, take those opportunities to step
outside your comfort zone and do things that make you uncomfortable whether it’s going
that extra mile to help a client or maybe giving a presentation sometime, because you
have a light to shine or else you wouldn’t have been drawn to social work, and you have
to shine it bright.

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