Sarah Tencer is a UNC student pursuing her masters while interning for our Resource Investment Department at United Way of the Greater Triangle. She wrote this about her experience interning with us.
I am currently getting my Masters in Social Work from the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill (I think this is where I’m supposed to say, “Go Tarheels!” But the truth is, I’m an Appalachian Mountaineer at heart. Whatever a Tarheel is, though, I’m sure I’ll learn to appreciate it). As part of the Masters program, we complete a field placement(basically an internship) at a social service agency for three days a week while we take classes the other two. I am fortunate enough to be spending my field placement hours working at United Way of the Greater Triangle with the Resource Investment team.
It can be said of practically any job that outsiders will generally have no idea what it is you actually “do.” Social Work is no exception to that rule. When I tell people I’m a social worker, they generally assume I work for Child Protective Services, an adoption agency, or doing some form of counseling. All of those are wonderful avenues for social workers to take, but are very different from what I have chosen to pursue. United Way is not what people typically think about for social work but, for me, it makes perfect sense. Let’s take a look.
There are six general values that are stated explicitly in the Social Work Code of Ethics. These six are: Service, Social Justice, Dignity and Worth of a Person, Importance of Human Relationships, Integrity, and Competence. In the short time I’ve spent at United Way thus far, I have observed each and every one of these core values in action, and have been given the opportunity to act within them.
Service: This is a pretty easy one to associate with United Way. We recruit volunteers, we put on events like the Day of Caring, we work directly with service agencies. Value accomplished.
Social Justice: United Way pursues social justice through the empowerment of agencies, but it doesn’t stop there. Another aspect of this organization is that surrounding social policies. Now UW is not a partisan organization, and we do not endorse any specific party or candidate. BUT, we do have the opportunity to inform ALL candidates about the challenges being faced by individuals and families in their constituency. United Way creates community needs assessments to look at what the problems are, who is experiencing them, and what the best evidence-based practices are to address that problem. Regardless of the politician’s approach, he/she will be better prepared to act if he/she is correctly informed. That’s where we at United Way come in.
Dignity and Worth of a Person: United Way is very intentional about respecting those persons who are served by our partner agencies. In addition, there are regional initiatives that are a way for UW to be more directly involved with the people we serve. Just sitting in on task force meetings for our Matched Savings Program has taught me how deeply valued these individuals are by our staff.
Importance of Human Relationships: Talk about being connected over here. Not only do we have great ties to nonprofit directors, but also to community members, CEOs, coalition builders, and all types! It’s important to maintain a network of providers and UW does just that. I have been incredibly impressed by the number of people who request a UW staff member as a facilitator or helper in their initiatives.
Integrity: I have learned a lot during my time here about the importance of transparency in the nonprofit sector. We expect honesty and openness for our partner agencies, and are able to model that within our own organization. In an agency that deals so much with money it is important to be able to show where it’s coming from, who it’s going to, and why it’s going there. Even as an intern, I’ve been able to see this at work.
Competence: Last but not least: these people know their community. They know the needs, wants, and value of each project in the area. They have the funding process down to a science. I am surrounded by competent and intelligent individuals.
So United Way may not be your typical social work job. However, looking at the way we specifically fit into each one of the social work values, it’s not really a question. So when someone asks me, “How is that social work?”…I have trouble responding with anything but, “How is that NOT social work?”