For Amanda Nole, MSW, social work is all about empowerment. “Instead of trying to solve people’s problems, I try to give them the tools and resources they need to help themselves,” she says. Amanda joined Senior Day Services in May 2020 and enjoys working as part of a multidisciplinary care team to serve older adults in Northeastern PA. Below, she shares her journey into the profession, her passion for working in her hometown region, and the new initiatives she is excited to implement at Senior Day Services.
I didn’t go to college right away after high school; if I had, I would have studied business. During that time, I had a sister working in human services and really liked what she did. Whenever we talked about her work, she’d say that I “got it,” and that I understood how things were not always black and white. I also naturally have a helper personality. So, when I did go to school, I decided on social work. As I got deeper into my studies, I realized it was a really good fit.
Originally, I focused macro social work, which includes policy and advocacy. I did my fieldwork in a macro agency, and I liked it, but I missed having the opportunity to do individual-level care. During my graduate program, I wanted to do something more direct so I could get that experience. At first I was disappointed when I was assigned to work in the Wilkes-Barre VA Medical Center, but I ended up falling in love with that population. From that experience, I also found I had a knack for resource management, and medical social work is much more about that. Instead of trying to solve people’s issues, you’re focused on motivating them to take control and giving them the tools they need to help themselves. I also enjoy the environment of working with a multidisciplinary team of doctors, nurses, and therapists.
One thing I didn’t realize before was that some older people don’t have anyone. My family was lucky to have been involved with my grandparents, and that isn’t the case for everyone. When I would ask clients at the VA to list their contacts, some didn’t have an answer. The experience working at the VA prepared me for my current role because I don’t jump to assuming that everyone has someone there for them. It really makes me aware of how significant our services can be as a contact point for people.
My helping nature. Also, as I mentioned before, I don’t really want to do things for people, I want to help them help themselves. I also think I’m a good listener. I don’t like to push my thoughts on anyone else, and I’m willing to be judgement-free. I can challenge someone when needed while still respecting their autonomy.
I’m excited to get into community-based experience after working mainly in inpatient with the VA. My direct supervisor, Bobbie, is Director of On-Site Adult Day Services and In-Home Services. She is an LPN and has over 25 years of experience working in all different departments. I always enjoy getting her perspective on things. I also enjoy working under Dr. Maria Montoro-Edwards. She’s a great person to have around—she knows so much about funding—and funding is really important for social workers!
My program included a clinical rotation, so I already had experience in the workforce. Working full-time after high school was my original awakening to what being an adult is like. One thing that has been an adjustment is stepping into a professional role rather than a student or learner role. I have much more authority and responsibility now than when I had an advisor to defer to.
I’ve been doing phone calls with clients to introduce myself and check in. So many of them miss coming to our programs, and it’s rewarding to know that we provide a service that is so needed and appreciated by clients as well as their caregivers. Sometimes we don’t realize how much people appreciate our services, but during this time we are definitely learning. I’m sure there will be many more things that come when we reopen and talk to more people.
I grew up in Tunkhannock and lived there my whole life. I went away to West Chester University and came back to the region when I attended Marywood University for graduate school. I didn’t really plan on staying in the area to work; I figured I would get a job around Philadelphia. But I’m the youngest of five, and, all of a sudden, my siblings started getting married, getting jobs and having kids around here. That made me want to come back and stick around. They say that when you’re young, you hate where you grew up, but leaving made me value small-community living. I’m hoping to stay for a long time.
I love walking. For me, it kills two birds with one stone: I like exploring new places, and I also find it beneficial to my mental health. I spend a lot of time with my siblings, parents, nieces, and nephews, and often travel to Bloomsburg where many of them live. I also read for enjoyment, and I am excited to get back into that because I didn’t read a lot outside of education while in graduate school. My best friend moved back from Philadelphia, so I spend a lot of time with her as well.
The short answer is that we can always do more. There is definitely a wide range of nursing homes and personal care homes in this area, but fewer services that are community-based and focused on helping people stay in their homes longer. I think expanding these options will be helpful. The aging population is always growing, and it seems like many view nursing homes as one of the only options for long-term care if you can’t provide for your loved ones during the day. However, services like ours can help during the day if families want to keep loved ones at home. I hope that through outreach and community efforts, we can help raise awareness of the services that organizations like Senior Day Services offer. It’s so important for people to know what options they have and what options exist for their aging loved ones. So, more funding for community programs would be great, and the Lackawanna County Area Agency on Aging could also always use more funding from the state.
We are working on implementing a caregiver support program. There are many benefits to caregivers talking to a professional, getting out, and doing self-care, but I think another important part of it is being in contact with other caregivers. I’m not a caregiver, so I don’t know first-hand what someone is going through, but a caregiver group would provide a place for people to come together to talk about the struggles and joys with others who have been in their shoes. I would like to create a space for that to happen. Right now, that’s in the very early stages. I have a list of those who are interested, and once we’re back up and running it will be a bit easier to begin to host something.
I’m also looking forward to implementing a full psycho-social assessment for all of the incoming clients. It will be great to be able to get a gauge on where clients—and caregivers—are mentally as well as physically and catch things which may have otherwise slipped through the cracks. This is one of the strengths of being part of a multidisciplinary team; while physical and occupational therapists focus on the more physical side of care, social workers can take care of the social and psychological areas, and ultimately we can ensure all domains are covered.
Along with the Area Agency on Aging, the Alzheimer’s Association is a great resource. They focus mainly on funding the search for a cure for Alzheimer’s, but really anyone can become a part of it. They provide opportunities for agencies and individuals to advocate, whether that means signing petitions, donating funds, or spreading awareness. Some people want to help but are not sure how to get started, so I think it’s important to know even the smallest acts are advocacy moves.
Our Spread Kindness initiative, for example, is a way for people to write encouraging notes to our senior clients, who may be feeling especially lonely in this time of isolation. Small actions will continue to be important especially through COVID-19 to support the aging people in nursing homes or programs like ours.