Thursday, March 15, 2012

What it's really like to work in the human services field

FELICIA SCOTT: The Post University
graduate has taken human services to heart
Felicia Scott has been busy this week doing what she does best -- volunteering and helping other people. Yesterday she pitched in at the Austin Music Awards, which benefits the SIMS Foundation, an organization that helps Austin musicians and their families cope with addiction.

But that's just one of a long list of ways Felicia has been living out the principles of human services. The last time we talked to her, about a year ago, Felicia had just gotten back from a 10-day trip to El Salvador where she helped build a community center and a garden to support impoverished people.

She also was working to complete her drug and alcohol counseling certificate from Post University, after earning her online master of science in human services degree with a concentration in clinical counseling from Post University.

We caught up with Felicia to see what she's been doing over the past year, and where her master's degree in human services and career have taken her. Read on for the interview our blogger, Janelle, had with her to see where she is now.

I especially encourage you to read our interview if you're interested in the area of human services, because I think Felicia is the epitome of the type of person it takes to do well in this field. Find out from Felicia what it's really like to work in human services, the personal qualities you need to succeed in this field, and the opportunities and rewards that are open to you when you make human services your life's mission.



Janelle: Do you know what has been going on with the community center that you helped build in El Salvador since you were there last January?

Felicia: I do, actually. I did not get to take the trip this year, although many other people did and got great news. The crops that we planted last year are now flourishing and are feeding that small community that we worked in. They've built more houses in January 2012, and now they're able to provide fresh water, which was not there when I went to visit.

Janelle: Do you know how many people are using the community center now?

Felicia: At this point, I believe about 200. Many of the children there are not allowed to go to school unless they have a certain amount of money, which many don't have. So the community center is being used for school as well, and just family activities and picnics and different things on the weekend.

Janelle: Are you planning to return to El Salvador any time soon?

Felicia: I hope to. I have a three-year-old and five-year-old, so that's why I wasn't able to go this year. But I'm in constant communication with them and the people involved that live here in Austin. We're hoping to go next year to keep it going.

Janelle: When we last connected, you wrote in some of your emails to us about what it was like to go to El Salvador and help its people. It sounds like it was an emotional experience for you.

Felicia: Yes, it was a very emotional journey. But it provides you the in-service, and that's what you're there to do. You're there to work in another culture. You have to go in with non-religious views and just be practical. You're there to help provide their own kind of peace that they're looking for in their community. So for me it was an emotional journey and it was a great one. I feel that it began with me before I even went to contribute to the people there. I had to go in with the attitude of, "This is what they deal with on a daily basis and this is what you deal with back home." So you go in with compassion and we turned out to have a lot of unity in the end.

Janelle: Where has your human services work taken you today?

Felicia: Well, I'm teaching at Post, which I love. But outside of that, I'm working for a unique foundation called the SIMS Foundation here in Austin. It's a great place that offers mental health and addiction recovery for Austin musicians and their families, because there are a lot of musicians here. They offer on-site counseling and a full range of addiction services, like medical detox and sober living. But really what they do is bond the musical community together by providing these services to people that are gone so many days out of the year, leaving their families in Austin with no services. Many times, the children need counseling when their father or mother is on the road. So it's a really neat organization. On March 14 I'll be volunteering with them for the Austin Music Awards. It's a kickoff for South by Southwest, which is a huge musical tour here. We'll be running their kickoff party with food and, of course, music, to raise funds for them. It also spreads the word in the music community.

Janelle: So musicians that have gotten care from SIMS are going to be playing at the Austin Music Awards?

Felicia: Some of them will, yes.

Janelle: Why did you get involved with SIMS?

Felicia: I got involved with SIMS because I have a very close connection with wanting to work with mental health as well as addiction recovery. Currently I'm teaching one of the addiction recovery classes at Post, a drug and behavior course. I grew up in an alcoholic home, so that's how I got started with the alcohol and drug counseling courses at Post after I got my master of human services degree from Post. It's a field that's really close to me. But it's also important to break the stigma, in my opinion, on mental illness and addiction recovery. I'm also just a music lover and this happens to be a great city for it.

Janelle: What do you think needs to change about the way that we look at and treat addictions?

Felicia: We need to put the information out there, and have more education in schools. I have a daughter that's in kindergarten and of course we don't go into addiction too much, but we will be talking about it as the kids grow up. It's something that needs to be talked about and not shunned, in my opinion. Same with mental health issues. Even if you live in a small town, you can still have an impact on a local level.

Janelle: What's your goal with your efforts in trying to raise awareness about mental health care and addictions?

Felicia: Never give up, basically. And like I tell my students, human services is not just about sitting in a cubicle all day. It's about guiding people, being compassionate, and being an advocate for a certain cause or many causes. You can go to work every day, but when it really comes down to it, you need to be involved in the community.

Janelle: What other organizations are you involved in on a volunteer basis?

Felicia: Another one that I just am getting involved in is called GENaustin. It's a girl empowerment network. They work with girls in middle school up to high school level. Their mission is to support and guide girls to make wise choices. They help them navigate pressures of girlhood -- you shouldn't have to fall into peer pressure, you shouldn't have to wear a certain amount of makeup, etc. I'll be doing the training for it soon. Then I'll actually get to go to some of the schools and speak with the girls and parents for their We Are Girls conference. It's an annual, statewide conference and what they try to focus on is self-image, media, and parent/daughter relationships. They also do girl workshops throughout the year on dating, communication, friendship, college, and other topics.

Janelle: Will you be talking to girls in some of these workshops as well?

Felicia: Yes, that's the goal. And they train you on that so you're up to speed before you can talk to the young girls.

Janelle: Why is it important to you to be part of GENaustin?

Felicia: Well I'm in my mid-30s now. I grew up in a small town, so they had Girl Scouts and things like that, but there weren't specific things talking about how to teach girls to be leaders. I think this provides a healthy, non-judgmental way for girls to speak out. That's what I would hope for my own daughter as she grows up. I think it's a powerful message and I hope it takes off.

Janelle: What do think drives you internally to volunteer and help other people in need like this?

Felicia: I think it's always been instilled in me. My mother, although she wasn't a big advocate for traveling across the country, did small things in our community to help out. I think seeing that as a child helped me gravitate toward it. I started at a very young age working with the homeless and giving out food. That's something I did this past Christmas with my five-year-old and three-year-old. We got socks and personal care items, put them gift boxes, and brought them the homeless shelter here in Austin and gave them out. I've always had that compassionate side of me. I feel like I have to be a voice for people that can't have their own voice.

Janelle: What are you doing now professionally? You mentioned you're teaching at Post University.

Felicia: I'm working for Post, which is great and I love it. Right now, I teach two courses. I'm applying to Ph.D. school, so we'll see where that goes. I'm coming out in May to Post's graduation to walk as an adjunct professor and hopefully meet some of my students and mentors that have helped me along the way, because I haven't met them face-to-face. I've only done online courses. I'm looking forward to that.

Janelle: How did you get started teaching as an adjunct at Post University?

Felicia: I had graduated, and one of the professors -- we had a close mentorship/relationship -- asked me to do it. I jumped on it because I just love everything about the online environment. That's how we're going with education now. I have worked there for several modules now and hope to continue. I'm working in a drug and behavior course, and that's in the psychology department. And then I do an online master of human services course.

Janelle: What are you trying to impart to your students, considering your background and how your compassion for helping people has been instilled in you since you were a young girl?

Felicia: Even though they are online courses and I'm not meeting my students face-to-face in the classroom, I like to share the message that it's about a global community. No matter where we're at, we can all connect on some level. And like I said, even if the students never left their small town, they can still make impacts. But I always tell them human services is not a glamorous job. It's not a job where you're going to get paid a lot of money. But if your heart is in it and you're able to guide people and have compassion, then you'll do well.

Janelle: What goals are you striving to achieve overall in your life?

Felicia: Well, overall, I would say continue my education. I'm looking at a couple of doctoral programs. I'm debating on a couple, either in psychology or a doctorate program at Arizona State University that focuses on behavioral health. I would hope to continue to do that, get the Ph.D. work done, and just raise my kids in a great way. I have a deep passion for non-profit work, but I also have a huge passion for teaching. So if there is a way I can combine that, I would love to do it.

Janelle: Best of luck to you, Felicia. It was great catching up with you.

Felicia: Thank you so much.



Thanks for updating us, Felicia! We're looking forward to seeing you at graduation this year too! Keep up the phenomenal work.