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“The Dog Lady”

by Rebecca Oliver

When you move from one community to another, sometimes there are community norms that differ. Often there is not a manual or a community guide that alerts you to these differences. In my previous hometown, it was a widely accepted rule that if you have a dog, you keep that dog on a leash. My little dog, Abby, was used to her walks on a leash each morning and evening. Sure, at times, in a controlled area (dog park or fenced in area) I would let her run free with other dogs. But, for the most part, leash walking was the norm.

When I moved to my new town a few years back, I moved into a relatively small neighborhood. There were not sidewalks, but my assumption was, you walk your dog on a leash. My neighborhood was very “dog-friendly” which delighted me! I would strap on the leash and take Abby out for a walk. I quickly learned that the norm in my new neighborhood or community was different. Very different. Typically, when walking Abby in the morning, other dogs in the neighborhood, who were left free to roam, would join me on my walk. Often, it started as just Abby and me. But, within minutes, we would be joined by Cooper, Duke, Libby, Piper, white Piper, and sometimes Ava. This time of solitude became a time of interaction and play. And, much to my humor, I was informed by one of my neighbors that I was known as “the dog lady.” Her son had named me, the “dog lady” since I was often accompanied by so many of the neighborhood dogs.

My new community was not only “dog friendly,” but it was also small enough that we became well-acquainted with our new neighbors. We had neighborhood dinners out at restaurants, impromptu gatherings as people were out in their yards, evenings on someone’s patio, and neighborhood cook-outs. We celebrated birthdays, holidays, and special occasions together. Also, our neighbors looked out for each other if there was a “coyote spotting” or if there was a threat of some sort in the neighborhood. When a threat was felt – we would get a call from our neighbors.

Definition of COMMUNITY

1: a unified body of individuals: such as

a: the people with common interests living in a particular area

broadly: the area itself

the problems of a large community

b: a group of people with a common characteristic or interest living together within a larger society

a community of retired persons

a monastic community

c: a body of persons of common and especially professional interests scattered through a larger society

the academic community

the scientific community

In recent weeks, we have come to see the incredible importance and impact of community. There has been a “threat” in our broader community – and we have received a call to look out for each other. Many of us have become more observant and more aware of our local community. We have become observant of “symptoms” or “cases” in our communities, have recognized the resources or lack of resources in our community, and have had heightened concern for the needs of those in our communities.

Similarly, in recent weeks, we have come to value the incredible importance and impact of our professional community. Being a part of an informed, active, and committed group of professionals can be career altering – for the good. While some School Social Workers are blessed to be in a setting with a team, many School Social Workers carry out their daily responsibilities in somewhat isolation. Many are the only School Social Worker in their school building or even in their district. In times of crisis, like the current COVID-19 heath crisis, we have heightened awareness of the importance to have a professional village, a professional community with whom we can share ideas, grapple with challenges, and gain encouragement in our work. To have a professional community, who will support us and challenge us to be our best, is crucial.

Why be part of a professional community?

1. Information – gain information from various professional perspectives and an extensive knowledge base

2. Accountability – through communication and interaction with others we are more accountable for our practice and held to high quality practice

3. Contribution – offer our own unique skill set and perspective to better ourselves, to support others, and to advance the profession (contributing to the profession is part of our code of ethics)

4. Advancement – offer input toward the advancement of the profession through knowledge, discussions, and research

5. Support – gain support and encouragement for our challenging work

6. Impact – being a part of something bigger than ourselves – a larger community – allows each of us and our profession to have a greater impact!

SSWAA is a professional community of professionals. SSWAA has a mission of connecting, empowering, and equipping School Social Workers to provide evidence-informed services. This mission drives our work as we support our members and the greater profession. SSWAA supports School Social Workers as they look to expand their knowledge, to elevate their practice, and to engage with their professional community!

As School Social Workers, we play a critical role in our communities. We are known in our communities. We are known as problem-solvers. We are known as advocates. We are known as peace-keepers or conflict-resolution experts. We are known as change agents. We are known as mental health professionals. We are known as service providers. We are known as those individuals who stand by those who feel alone; who stand with those who face challenges; who speak up for those who have not found their voice. We are also known as courageous and resilient.

During these challenging times, we will persist. We will overcome. We are prepared! We are ready to meet the need! As School Social Workers, we have the skills and resolve to get through this. We know how to build on strengths. We know the importance of community. We will continue to stand ready to support our students in the face of challenging times. We will continue to provide needed services for our students, families, schools, and communities. SSWAA will continue to stand by you and stand with you – offering tools and resources. Will you stand with us?

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