Magazine article Careers & Colleges , Vol. 21, No. 3
Like working with people? Is helping the world more important than making money? Then a career in social services may be just what you are looking for.
"You're typically paid less if you do this kind of work, so you really need to believe in the cause," says Russ Finkelstein, the director of outreach for Action Without Borders, a nonprofit organization in New York City, which works around the world to create community groups that will address local problems.
The reward: You perform meaningful work and spend your days with interesting colleagues who share your values.
Finkelstein became interested in helping others at a young age, and he volunteered extensively in high school and college. He worked with inner-city youths for three years after college, then went to work for Action without Borders.
Teacher, social worker, law enforcement officer, nonprofit worker, politician, environmental activist -- these jobs all attract people who want to serve their communities.
"I get personal satisfaction from working with kids and seeing them learn and grow," says Donna Neri, a 37-year-old kindergarten teacher in Calvert County, Maryland.
Many Ways To Lend a Hand
Social service workers provide education, counseling, disaster relief, food programs, day care for children or adults, youth guidance, alcohol and drug rehabilitation, or job training directly to those who need them. Other work as administrators--running schools, designing direct service programs, or coordinating services for a group of community organizations. A third group works as activists or advocates--their main task is to persuade others to see the importance of their cause.
Jobs in the social services should be plentiful in the coming years, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). Demand for adult day care and meal delivery programs will increase because of growth in the number of elderly people in the United States. The continuing popularity of welfare-to-work programs should stimulate demand for job training services. And the number of community-based programs and group residences, which house and help homeless, chronically ill, and mentally ill clients, is expected to rise.
Are You a People Person?
Some service providers work with people who face serious problems: inadequate housing, unemployment, lack of job skills, financial trouble, serious illness or disability, substance abuse, unwanted pregnancy, child or spousal abuse. This kind of work can be very rewarding and meaningful. You work directly with people, helping them get what they need.
It can also be frustrating, emotionally taxing work. "Don't do it because you expect people to say thank you," says April Gates, 33, who works at Children's Hospital in Washington, D.C. As a social worker in the ogy department, Gates deals with people who are going through the worst crisis of their lives.
"These are people who are watching their precious child go through terribly toxic and life-threatening treatments for cancer," she says. "They have to learn a lot fast. They're focused on their child and on the doctors, not on you." Gates provides support, helping upset parents understand medical information about their child's disease and helping them work out ways to afford treatments.
Even healthy, happy clients can be a handful. "Working with teenagers can be a high maintenance task," says high school teacher Paris DeSoto. "I have to be on watch constantly, or they will start doing things they aren't supposed to, like sleeping, writing notes, doing homework for another class, braiding hair, and, of course, chatting. And I have to remind them over and over of every homework deadline and detail."
But DeSoto loves working with teenagers. "They male me laugh every day," she says.
Are You Well-Organized?
Social services administrators tend to start out in direct services. …