Heather: The interns really determine their own success. We have a good rapport with CSULB and we like to maintain that. You know UCLA doesn’t provide access to interns for interviews, and so we tell them that the first few weeks of the job ARE the interview (laughs). But we have had great success with our interns from CSULB, as evidenced by Jeff and Kendra’s work.
SSW: Do you feel that working for LACDMH is more difficult than, say, working for a non-profit?
Kendra: It’s important to keep that hope, that enthusiasm you have at graduation alive, because it is sometimes hard a few years into the job. And you will have one or two of those moments with clients and it will renew that hope. There is sometimes this enormous pressure with the non-profit to meet the grant goals that there isn’t as much here.
Jeff: I read a statistic the other day that the average ‘life expectancy’ in Social Work was five years, before you burn out and move on to something different, and I thought, I’m two years into this – does this mean I have three years left? (Laughs)
But I don’t feel that way. I feel like this place encourages creative approaches to working with clients. I have previously worked for a non-profit where the caseload was much higher, and the structure was much more rigid. I feel my best when I am able to do my best work, and I feel like I can do that here. There is a hierarchy here, of course but it does not feel as if there is as much division between the layers.
When I heard I won this award I thought, this is great but this is not just me, this is an award for the whole team.
Heather: It is definitely a team effort, and we try to make this as collegial a workplace as possible. We encourage this and this is what makes Jeff and Kendra the sort of worker who gets this kind of recognition, they bring creativity and enthusiasm to the job.
Kendra: I was so excited to learn that there was such a thing as Art Therapy, I wanted to be a part of it. And thinking of new, creative solutions is ultimately best for the client.
Jean: It is what has kept me here all these years, I was in teaching before this and I think those skills helped make my job easier here. I started in November of 1977 (almost 37 years ago) as an Intermediate Typist Clerk (“forgot” to mention my degree and teaching credentials), then suddenly remembered my degree and got the Recreational Therapist position with LBCAP 10 months later. DMH was still part of Health Services. So I’ve been with DMH since its inception.
SSW: Is this creativity something you seek out or cultivate in your interns?
Heather: Yes, definitely.
Jeff: Having the kids’ art in my office makes it feel more like it is their space.
Heather: These kids come from places with little control, and this makes them feel empowered.
Jean: When they can look up and see some piece of artwork they created, you can see it their faces, they are so proud.
Jeff: You know, I have to mention, some of the 18 nominated Groups that were considered for these awards had 20 members. Kendra and Jean were a team of two!
SSW: Is there anything you would like to say to yourself back when you were a student at CSULB, if you could?
Kendra: I would say self-care is so important. It is so difficult to maintain that hunger and excitement to learn. There is mental fatigue as well as physical. And remember that you don’t have to have all the answers – it’s OK.
Heather: Right, you can always grab support from someone else, there are layers of support.
Jeff: You have to find ways to recharge. Like, I haven’t told anyone this, but I always drop and do ten pushups before I meet with a client. (all laugh)
Heather: That’s your secret weapon.
Jeff: Right, that’s like Kendra standing on her head (laughs).
Kendra: That’s true, I will practice Yoga to try and stay balanced and focused. You have to have something, take time for yourself, and this is ultimately good for the client.
SSW: Is there anything else you would like to add?
Kendra: It’s a fulfillment of a dream for me to be able to do something like Art Therapy. It’s so cool to be acknowledged for it, but it is rewarding just to see the friendships with the girls in the Art groups.
Jeff: I would just like to say, I have had adversity in my past, as many people have, but I realized at some point that you have to take your life into your own hands. If I can do this, anyone can.