The Face of Social Work in the Heart of New England

Hull House

The blogger at the birthplace of American Social Work: Chicago’s Hull House.

It is spelled “Worcester,” but pronounced “Woostah.” It is not only “The Heart of New England,” it is “New England’s Second City.” It is proof to the citizens of our Commonwealth that there is life beyond Route 495. It is home to 13 institutions of higher education; the thirteenth and newest is Wheelock@Worcester, an off-campus Master of Social Work (MSW) program.

Wheelock@Worcester has had two successful semesters and expects to launch a second cohort of students in the fall of 2013. Each cohort will spend seven semesters combining work in the field with rigorous academic work in the areas of social welfare policy, the study of human behavior, and the practice of social work. Students also consider the impact of racism and other forms of discrimination on contemporary society and become familiar the skills needed for successful clinical and community social work. Most of the students are currently in the field in a mix of public and private human service agencies located not only in Worcester but throughout Central Massachusetts and even into New Hampshire.

The City of Worcester and surrounding Worcester County is a wonderful laboratory for understanding how 21st Century America lives and works. There are immigrants from every continent and people speak something like 100 languages. Some people hold jobs that are relics of America’s manufacturing past and there are people engaged in world-class projects in biotechnical science. Think of the huge campus adjacent to the University of Massachusetts Medical School. On any given evening, punk rockers may be flocking to the Palladium while others are crowding into Mechanics Hall for Music Worcester’s presentation of Carmen . There are failing schools and educational showcases. Voters send truly progressive legislators to Boston and to Washington, but overall are in the political center or to its right.

Worcester has topnotch medical services at UMASS Memorial and St. Vincent’s hospitals. It offers a large system of programs for those who live with mental illness, including some ground breaking therapies and facilities. Let’s boast about institutions like the Edward M. Kennedy Health Center, The Bridge, Community Healthlink, and the state brand new psychiatric hospital, the Recovery Center. The city and its public and private agencies work hard to address homelessness, substance abuse, child abuse, and neglect. Neighborhood centers and associations try to build community, as does Worcester Interfaith and dozens of faith communities large and small. The MSW students come from participation in these efforts. (Please Note: Worcester in many ways in used as a metaphor for a much larger area. Think Fitchburg and Leominster, Webster and Sturbridge. Think agencies like Y.O.U. Inc., LUK, Pathways to Change, the YWCA’s Daybreak, and Devereux.)

After honing their skills in strength-based social work and deepening their understanding that the quest for social justice is the basis for all that they do, the students will return to those efforts as better practitioners. While remaining true to the Wheelock Mission of “improving the lives of children and families,” they will define that Mission broadly. It will extend to neighborhoods and communities, to the elderly, to the street person, to the refugee. Sometimes in clinical settings, sometimes in interagency collaboration or in community meetings, these students will work with people to identify issues that impact their ability to live to their full potential. They will help people design interventions that will help them move toward that goal and then evaluate their progress.  

A personal note: I have tried to highlight the wonderful city I now call home and in that context write about the wonderful program I have the privilege to coordinate. I cannot convey how much I respect and love the passion and dedication the students bring to it. Their hard work can only make more good things happen.