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A Denney for Your Thoughts – Social work marches on

Editor’s note: Joan Sams passed Friday, Feb. 28, after this column was written.’

By Connie Denney

How does a social worker cross a foot log? On her hands and knees, if necessary! At least that was the experience of Joan Sams, who took time recently to reflect on her more than 24 years with the Department of Human Services in Unicoi County.   

Driving south from Erwin, the creek flowing to her right, she went up a mountain road to make a home visit. The house was on the right, across the creek. The woman of the house must have been watching for her because she came out of her house—and to Joan’s rescue. Arms loaded with paperwork, Joan stood on the road side of the foot log spanning the water. Her client tripped right across the log, took the papers and tripped right back across. 

“If she could, I could,” Joan thought and did what she had to do. She crossed on hands and knees. After the purpose of the visit was accomplished, they reversed the process.

As we talked in her assisted-living home, Joan laughed easily as she shared the story. The humor of the situation must be easier to see now than as she lived it!

Having retired some years back, Joan saw changes during her career. Computerization came.  The Medicaid program was implemented. She worked at helping other families, as she was wife and mother to her own.

When I asked about advice she would give someone considering social work as a career, she did not hesitate to say, “Care about people.” Quickly, she drew attention to the importance of being prepared for today’s technology. She came right back, though, to emphasize the caring, without which she does not advise pursuing social work as a career.

Kristy Davis, a Unicoi County native now living in Johnson City, is of a different generation following the path of helping others. With an associate degree in social work she transferred to East Tennessee State University (ETSU) to complete a bachelor’s degree, later going back to graduate school for her master’s degree. The next step, Licensed Master Social Worker (LMSW), she attained last year.

Her studies, internships serving homeless families in the region and at a public health center for low-income and uninsured people, and her work helping families and children get resources, such as health appointments or clothing – all have reinforced what she already knew. Having decided back in high school that she really wanted to work with people, Kristy looks on the work as a calling and thinks most of her graduate school classmates did, also. So far she has found that she tends to work with families facing poverty and loves working with family units.

“Social workers are supposed to work with the strengths of each individual rather than focusing on weaknesses, so working with families allows me to help a whole group of people with many strengths working together to accomplish goals. However, I have always loved working with teenagers and young adults, so that’s a population I would love to work with in the future.”

March is Social Work Month. This year’s theme, Social Workers: Generations Strong, seems entirely appropriate. The constant is the motivation that comes from caring. Thank you, Joan and Kristy. Indeed, we should be grateful to all social workers for making life better for so many, in turn, making it better for us all.