Happy Social Work Month to my colleagues! From time to time, we need to be reminded of why we choose to work in this industry and “Beth” did that for me last summer…


I guess it was second grade when I realized that we were poor. One of the snotty girls in my class let me know that the shirt I was wearing USED to be hers. My mom was a yard-sale queen, and most of our clothing was Saturday morning bargains. When you’re an adult, this is not a big deal  —in fact, now, I like nothing more than good deal –but when you are 8 and a group of people who you thought were your friends is laughing at you, it pretty much feels like the end of the world. I know this is a weird way to start a blog post, but I remembered this exact memory shortly after talking with a woman whose world had come to an end and didn’t seem to know it. 

Last summer, I was working an afternoon shift at our front desk answering phones and assisting people who were walking into the office. For Aurora, it was a typical busy afternoon of giving out housing lists, explaining our services, directing individuals to case managers, and so on (not to sound complacent, but this is why we exist and this is what our staff does day after day for thousands every year). The normalcy ended when she walked in the door….and for the sake of confidentiality, we will call her, “Beth.”

Smiling, but obviously tired, Beth said hello and asked in quiet voice, “What do I need to do to get a food bag?” Each year, Aurora gives out thousands of food bags filled with easy-open canned goods, snacks, water, and utensils to homeless individuals. This would be the point where a case manager might get a little more information to help find out their situation and see if there is was anything beyond a food bag that they could do to help this person. I’m not a case manager though, and I was answering phones, dealing with eight people, writing a grant, and thinking about the baby that was kicking my ribs, so I said, “Food bags are for homeless individuals. Are you homeless?” The second I said it, I wanted to take it back. Why, you ask? Well, that was the wrong way to ask that question, to that particular person, in that particular situation, and being a social worker, I knew that. She looked at me, hesitated, and said, “Yes.”

Remembering that it took everything she had to ask for a food bag, I changed my demeanor, ignored the ringing phone, ignored the rest of the people in the lobby, and focused on her for a few minutes. Our short conversation yielded me to learn that she was an incredible person, facing a horrible situation, who was scared, but couldn’t show it because she needed to be the strong for her three kids. I wish I could tell you what she had done to keep her family together, but I can’t. What I can tell you is that after our conversation, she bared her soul again to our Homeless Outreach Team Leader, Susan, who was able to help her apply for housing  before she left the office that day and get her family into an apartment that they could afford within a few days (Yeah, Susan is pretty awesome like that…).

What I will also tell you is that Beth and Susan reminded me of why I became a social worker. I realize it is very cliche to say I became a social worker to help people, because I want to make a difference, because I want to change the world, because I want to do something meaningful. I think my colleagues and I would agree that those are all true. For me, it was about helping someone come back from the end of their world and start over. For me, it was about helping someone who had been through hell and back, only to realize that there is at least one person who cares. (And because… while it wasn’t when I was eight and wearing a used shirt, I, too, have been there and needed that one person.)


Becoming a Social Worker
Left–SIU Bachelor of Social Work Graduation with my husband, Jonathon, who graduated the same day
Right-UGA Master of Social Work Graduation

I’m guessing that some of my colleagues forget or don’t even know I’m a social worker because I’m the Director of Development. I write grants, raise money, plan events, handle our marketing, work with volunteers, and so on. I don’t work with clients anymore because I figured out early on that my talents lie in the organizational and community level work. And because I’m a “fixer”…  and when things didn’t work out for the kids I worked with in my first jobs out of school, I wanted to fix it for them. And you can’t do that.

I love social work at this level though. I love knowing that I help make sure that our organization keeps its doors open so that social workers help those most in need —those whose worlds are shattered and need help putting the pieces back together–and more specifically to Aurora, find their way home again. The non-profit/social work profession is not a walk in the park–pretty sure the burnout rate is one of the highest. Some days I want to pull out my hair, cry, scream, and give up. But then I sleep (well, I used to before my child was born) and wake up the next day to remember how important our job is in the community. Thanks to all the amazing social workers out there…. keep up the good work!

Prior to joining Aurora in June 2011, Jayme Walters primarily focused her career on working with children, families, and education through non-profit organizations, including Youth First, Inc. and two emotional-growth boarding schools. Jayme earned a Bachelor of Social Work degree at Southern Illinois University-Carbondale and continued her education at University of Georgia, where she completed the Masters of Social Work program. She is also certified in Non-Profit Management and Program Development. Jayme currently resides in Henderson, Kentucky with her husband, Jonathon and daughter, Kate, who is now seven months.

jayme and kate

Jayme and daughter, Kate