Celebrating a journey to the field of social work
March marks Social Work Month, a time to celebrate and shed light on the transformational services social workers across the country provide. At Gateway, our staff assist children and families in a variety of ways to help keep families safely together or forge a path to permanency for youth in foster care. Their skillsets are unique, focusing on helping others identify strengths.
This month, we’re sharing stories from our team members to highlight what it means to be in the social work field. Our first feature focuses on Ashley Bevelle, one of Gateway’s newest staff to our Therapeutic Foster Care program. Her journey into social work has allowed her to serve in several different capacities including intensive in-home, youth with disabilities and foster care.
To learn more about Ashley and the rewarding work she is doing, read on!
How long have you worked with youth and family services and what drew you to it?
I have worked in a few different areas with youth and families since completing my undergraduate degree in 2015. I started at an organization called United Ability that focused on early intervention with youth. When I was finishing up my degree, I didn’t really know what I wanted to do post-graduation, but what I did know is that I wanted to work with children. I also wanted to serve groups that I felt didn’t have enough of a voice or representation. I was drawn to working directly with individuals that I felt like people didn’t know or fully understand what was going on in their lives or the importance of them having access to resources they need to heal and thrive. I got to start by working with children with disabilities and what I liked most about that setting was the emphasis on inclusion. The way we structured services was to integrate the children we were working with who had disabilities with able bodied children to encourage them feeling included. Trying to modify a classroom with children with special needs wasn’t always easy, but to see them have the support they needed to engage in the same activities with their peers was incredible.
What are you most passionate about?
For me, it is seeing a positive change in someone who has been told by others that they couldn’t do x, y, or z, because of things that have happened to them beyond their control. And to help them challenge that thought. An example is when I was working with youth with disabilities, I would often remind them that while walking may not look the same as how some others might, together we can find a way to make mobility happen for them. It’s also helping them unearth what is unique about them; to remind them that they are capable and important.
Everyone has challenges to overcome in their lives and I enjoy assisting others in overcoming theirs. A lot of the youth we work with have overcome some of the hardest challenges people can face. They’ve been told time and time again that they aren’t going to amount to anything because of behavioral challenges they inherited from the hard places they’ve come from. Instability - going in and out of homes - can negatively impact the youth we work with and often that result of those adverse experiences is all people see. Being able to wake up and remind them they are stronger than what’s happened to them – helping identify their strengths – that is what gets me up every day to do the work.
You recently decided to go back and get a Masters in Social Work (MSW) even though you already had a degree in another field. What led you to that decision and how have you been impacted by the program so far?
The “aha moment” for going back to school happened when I was working on the Trauma Systems Therapy (TST) training team in Tuscaloosa. It was a group of my co-workers and we had various roles within the TST team. I was in the safety department so I would come into the home to help evaluate safety concerns or needs. I was the first one in the home when children were dysregulated – working through challenges to keep them safe. I had been doing that for a while and the team I was on included several social workers. They would constantly encourage me to officially join the social work field because we all worked really well together. I would submit my work every week and they would playfully ask if I was already a social worker and of course I would say, “Noooo not yet”, but they were always urging me to do it saying, “This field needs you as a clinician.”
They just kept encouraging me and offered to help with the application process providing references. The biggest thing that finally made me take the leap in applying was I had a sibling group that I bonded with. They got used to working with me, and I did too, even though I was only doing safety at the time. I wanted to continue working with youth like them, providing more direct service, but felt I needed the official training that an MSW provides. I applied and got accepted last spring and it has been such a smooth transition because as I've been going through the courses, I keep finding things that resonate like, “Wow I’ve been doing this all along!”
Beyond that, there is a camaraderie in this field. I know that others working in it know what it is like and that they are in it too. We’re in the business of helping people and that extends beyond our clients.
What advice would you give to someone thinking about getting into this field?
My biggest advice is to remember to take care of yourself first. You can't fill someone else’s cup if you have nothing left in your own to give. In this field we get so attached to those we work with because we are the ones that are there day in and day out. So when it's time for us to take a rest, sometimes we punish ourselves in a way because we want to give it our all – and they deserve that – but we have to remind ourselves that it is ok to take time for ourselves too. We tell others we work with all the time that they have to put themselves as a priority and take care of themselves so we have to be able to practice what we preach.
When you started this journey, did you have any hesitations and, if so, what made you overcome them?
Of course there were hesitations! I look back when I first started when I was in Intensive In-Home Services and going into those homes there were days I questioned if I could continue to do this. But you keep going and sometime later, maybe the full 90 days, when you see the progress they’ve made you see exactly why it is worth it.
You don’t always see the progress immediately; it is going to take time. This is a field where you always have to have a level of patience and sometimes – I'm not going to lie – it can make you question whether or not it is worth it. But you just have to find the silver lining because it gets heavy at times, and that’s when you have to lean on your support system. That is something else I would tell someone in this field, or thinking about joining it, is that you have to have a strong support system for yourself. Your own mental health is super important.
What is your main goal as a social worker?
I would love to become a Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW.) Ultimately, I just want to continue working with the populations that I am now, reminding people that they are able and capable.
What is the biggest lesson you have learned in your career so far?
I think the biggest lesson is that everyone’s journey is different and just because you may have more obstacles than someone else doesn’t mean you can’t get where they are going. Just because it may take a little longer to do something or get something accomplished doesn’t mean that it won’t get done. That is the biggest takeaway. The families we work with often compare themselves to others which is something I think we all do at times. So I try to help them see that while their journey wasn’t necessarily a straight and easy path, they picked up skills along the way. I try to show them, “You have these extra skills now because of this path you had to walk through and you've come out on the other end of it stronger. Now you have different skillsets and maybe even more tools than some other families because of it.”
This work allows you to share things and get a different perspective. You learn, and help others learn, that there is always more than one way to reach a goal. It's something I'm reminded of every day.
Anything else about your journey that we haven't touched on that you would like to share?
I like this field because we learn from other people. I find myself saying all the time, “I see how you approach this and maybe I can give that a try,” or even analyzing if there is something I am not giving to myself currently that I should look at that can help me be the best version of myself for the families I’m serving.
I am glad to be able to share this journey because I think it is so important for people to see this side of social work. I think there is a lot of assumptions made when you just say ‘social work’ so I am always glad when I can share about the side of it that is helpful and providing supports to build families up.