Tell us a little bit more about yourself! (Where you are from, your education/background, what you do, what your goals are.)
My name is Samantha Wilson; I am from Woodstock, New Brunswick. As soon as I graduated from High School, I went to UNB Fredericton to play basketball and start my university degree. I transferred to St. Thomas for my second year and finished my Bachelor of Arts, majoring in Psychology and Criminology. During my fourth year, I decided to apply to the Social Work Program at St. Thomas and was accepted. I just completed my Social Work degree this past December. Upon graduation, I moved to Grand Manan with my partner, Charles and my puppy Rory. I decided that I wasn’t ready to take on a conventional social work position and decided I would attempt to create my own path through projects and see where that leads. As of now, I am working out of the Library in Grand Manan (which is in the school) running a number of programs and I just took a new position as the Teen Program Director at the Community Center in Grand Manan, which I am super excited about!! I also am working on a separate project that I started a few months ago, looking to partner with other community members and agencies in the near future.
Your mom died when you were young. Do you think that impacted your decision to go into social work?
I definitely believe that the reason I ended up in social work was because I lost my mother at such a young age. When my mother passed, I was thirteen, my sister was nine and my brother was three. I had a big responsibility placed on my shoulders to make sure that I was strong for them and that I protected them the way that my mom would have. I learned some hard lessons at a young age, that I certainly do not wish on anyone else. However, when my mother died, I had two options, to let that ruin me or to grow stronger. Now, I will not lie, it has affected me greatly in many areas of my life and I have a lot of scars. However, as much as I wish that my mother was here today, I try to look at the gifts that this loss has blessed me with. I am so passionate to help others in any way that I can. I definitely went into this helping profession because of this loss. I hope to be able to support others who have been affected by trauma, loss, grief and other difficult situations in their life.
Why do you think that social work was created originally and what do you think are the core values of social work?
When you talk about a social worker, the first thing people assume is, “oh you’re the people who take kids away”, they automatically assume that social workers only work in child protection. As a social worker, it is one of the most frustrating things you can hear because our roots lie so much deeper than that. Social work was created because of “natural helpers”, these are the types of people who will do anything to help others. For example, if someone’s house burns down in the community, these were the people organizing funding for a new house, new clothes, food etc.. Social work was created because we all struggle, we all go through dark times and we all need help at some point in our life. These natural helpers are the ones who like to be there by your side when you hit that dark spot in your life. I consider myself a natural helper. I have had this on-going debate in my head for a while about my personal values versus the values that social workers are mandated to abide by in a number of government positions. I feel that we have tried to turn "social work" into a traditional career, when it is not possible. There isn’t a formula for struggle and hurt. I personally have a lot of issues with how many agencies practice social work and they conflict with my personal values of what I believe social work is. It is so important to me that as social workers; we do not abuse our power. We can never possibly understand what someone else is going through, even if we have gone through a similar event. Everyone’s “struggle” and “hurt” will be different than yours, we all experience this differently. It is so important that we ask people what they need, instead of assuming we know. Also, that we respect the rights and wishes of children and youth; they have a voice and you need to let them use it. All this being said, I have so much love and respect for all the social workers who do work in a system for their dedication and advocacy work to make the system better.
How are you breaking the traditional mold of social work and how do you show kindness by doing so?
I definitely don’t fall into the traditional social worker category. It didn’t take me long to figure out into the program that I was one of those radical social workers that constantly questioned everything. I was the “but why?” annoying student, which some days could be hard, when you’re having debates with other professionals about why they do a certain thing in their practice. But other days, I was proud of myself for sticking to my beliefs and not falling into the “system trap” where I just go along with things because it is a “job” and I need “money”. After losing my mother, I developed bad anxiety, which came with the “perfectionist” tendencies. For a long time, I always had to have everything planned out absolutely perfectly. If you had asked me five years ago, what will you be doing for a job and where will you be? I would have NEVER EVER guessed that I would be in Grand Manan without a “set life job” creating my own path. I have to say that it is definitely the thing that I most proud of because I never settled. It has been tempting, but I continue to have faith that I have made the right decision choosing to go by my own agenda. I don’t want to fall into a routine of just doing something because the system tells me it should be done that way. I want to find out what the needs are at any given time and do something about it! For example, one of the projects that I started is to collect anonymous stories from people all over who want to submit a story about themselves or their life. There are no limits to what topic you write about; many people have written about many areas surrounding mental health. So for example, some of the top themes I have received are: sexual assault, abuse, anxiety, depression, eating disorders, relationships, gender issues andloss. The piece can be in any type of form, so you can tell it like a story, a song, as poem or any other way that feels comfortable to you. There is no “proper” length, it can be short or long. It has benefits to the reader because it helps them to realize they are not alone and that others have struggled too, it teaches us to be more compassionate and helps us grow as people when we here other people’s struggles. It helps the writer because it gives them a voice even if it’s anonymous, it helps them work through some feelings and events that have happened in their life, it gives them a chance to help others. There is nothing more powerful than narrative, we have so much to learn from one and other. No struggle is too small or too big to tell. I would love if any of you readers would like to participate in this project. I have received tons of stories and are hoping to publish this as a NB resource!
Kindness is so important to me for many reasons, but if I had to say why it lies close to my heart is because after losing my mother I became very angry for a lot of years. Anger makes you miserable. When your mean to others, it really doesn’t fulfill you, it doesn’t make you feel good about yourself. When you help others, when your kind – you feel good about it. I try to always remember that you never know what someone is going through and that a little act of kindness can have a huge influence on someone’s day and maybe even their life.
How are ways that you show kindness to people in your job? Can you tell us a little bit more about be-YOU-nique?
I started a Be YOU-nique program at the Grand Manan library, which is a group for teenage girls in the High School. I started this because when I moved to Grand Manan, I noticed that there were very little programs for youth girls. High school is a tough for girls and it is so important for us to get together and have good conversations. I remember when I was in high school, everyone was so mean to each other. People were bullied every day; it was absolutely horrible. Getting out of high school was such a relief because the environment is so toxic. I think for girls; it has gotten even worse with this heightened sexuality expectation for girls on social media. There is so much jealously involved in friendships that we forget to be kind to each other. The Be YOU-nique girls group that I run gets together about once or twice a month for a fun night and some great conversations. Overall, the biggest purpose to this program is to promote: good self-esteem, create friendships, talk about the importance of kindness and girls sticking together. We were so lucky to have Dee and Nathaniel come down this month to do some work with us and of course talk about kindness!!
How do people in your community show kindness to each other?
Grand Manan is certainly very different from all the other places that I lived in my life but in a good way. The community is so small and they stick together. I grew up in a small town but I have never seen a community work together and collaborate in the way that the island does. If something happens to someone, the entire island will do whatever they can to support them. If someone’s child needs an expensive immediate emergency surgery, they will not have trouble finding funding because the island will make sure that family has more than enough money to give that child a surgery. When something happens on the island, everyone feels it. One little act of kindness that I have to mention about the island that makes it so unique is when your driving everyone waves to you! I remember when I first moved here, I would be driving down the road and a few people waved and I thought to myself, do I know them? And then after a few days the whole way down the island everyone waved. That small act of kindness brought a smile to my face and still does every day. It is really the little things in life that mean so much. Living on the island, makes you value the little things you take advantage of in your everyday life.