A blog post about the journey to becoming a social worker.
By Laura Perry, MBA, MSW
Adult and Child Counselor
As T.S. Eliot says, “It’s never too late to become the person you were always meant to be.” I believe that I was always meant to be a social worker, and I am proud that pursued my dream to enter this professional as a second career later a little later in life. Although the route to becoming a social worker was not as I had originally planned, my path was rewarding and rich in its own right. The experiences and insights I gathered along the way shaping me into the social worker I am today.
From early on, there were many experiences that shaped my desire to become social worker. As a young child in Norfolk, Virginia – although no longer legal in the US – I saw and was concerned about the unfairness of segregation that I witnessed every day. As a student at New Brunswick High School, where there were “riot gates” that would slam down during school hours in the hopes of de-escalating racial tensions, I began to understand “white privilege” although I did not learn this term until much later in life. The white students, especially those from my town of North Brunswick, were expected to be in the college preparatory curriculum whereas few Blacks and Latinos, who represented over 50% of the school, were encouraged.
While in college I majored in Human Development and Family Studies and in my junior year studied at The Merrill-Palmer Skillman Institute, renowned for its work and research with infants, children, and mothers, in Detroit, MI. In addition to academic work, I worked with teen girls at several Planned Parenthood offices including downtown Detroit and as Hamtramck, a pre-dominantly Polish Catholic community. As a birth control counselor, I learned about the struggles of these young women to build a future for themselves while being pressured to have sex and children, or to go against the teachings of the Catholic church and family values. I also had to confront my own prejudices about unmarried mothers and use of the welfare system.
After graduation, I planned to continue attain my MSW but the lack of funds prevented me from attending. I decided that I would work for a few years and then return to graduate school. Little did I know that a “few years” would become decades!
Because of the federal mandate to hire more women into traditionally male industries, I found myself embarking on a career in the pharmaceutical industry. I got my first apartment and spent my days as a sales representative at CIBA-Geigy, now Novartis Pharmaceuticals. Off-hours I advocated for women’s rights as a member of the National Organization for Women chapter and provided birth control counseling at Planned Parenthood. Along the way, I received my MBA to help keep me competitive in the corporate world; I married, continued to work full time, and raised two children.
My desire to become a professional social worker was put on the back burner and I thought my volunteer work was enough to fulfill my dream. I attempted to squash the desire to become a social work, by becoming an “uber” volunteer. Among the many volunteer activities, the one of which I am most proud, was my 13 years as a Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) in Essex County. A CASA is the “voice” of a child and any siblings who are in foster care. In what was a very unique role, I also was appointed to be the legal guardian for educational purposes for a young man who struggled in school. Most recently, I was privileged to work with a diverse group of volunteers from different religions and cultures to assist Syrian refugee families who were relocated to Elizabeth and were struggling to establish a new life for themselves in this country.
Eventually, fate intervened and started to move me towards my destiny as a social worker when I was laid off. Struggling with the cost and time to obtain my MSW, I decided to become a certified coach. Coaching included many components similar to therapy and allowed me to help others. Working with with families considering adoption as a way to expand their family, I realized many clients would benefit from therapy more than coaching. Again, even as my desires were nudging me towards returning to school, conflicting thoughts such as “I’m too old; it’s too expensive; I’ll never finish” whirled in my head and stopped me from moving forward.
In 2016, with my marriage ending and the “personalization” of my news feed that showing ad after ad for social work schools, I finally took the leap and entered the accelerated MSW program at Simmons University in Boston. Focusing my studies on trauma and interpersonal violence, my dream was becoming a reality.
In my very first class on the very first day, I knew I was “home.” I looked forward to every class, and my dedication to doing my best helped ground me and keep me focused during my divorce. In January 2018, I proudly stood at the graduation ceremony when my name was called – Laura Perry, MBA and MSW.
Now, as a counselor at Safe+Sound Somerset, I am working towards certification in Prolonged Exposure and Trauma-Focused-Cognitive Behavioral Therapies. I counsel adult and child survivors of domestic violence and living my dream. I am the social worker I was always meant to be!