Eve Pollack, GSS ‘23, has been completing her MSW specialist year field education internship at S.T.R.O.N.G. Youth—a youth, family, and community development organization specializing in youth and gang violence prevention and intervention located in Uniondale, NY. This was a new experience for Pollack, who has typically worked with the special needs population since she was in sixth grade, including her first-year internship at GSS. However, in that first internship, her supervisor told her that change is a good thing.
“Going into my specialist year, I thought, maybe I’ll stick with the school that I’ve been interning at,” Pollack said. “And my supervisor there said, Don’t do that. We love you, but try something new. Get out of your comfort zone.”
The advice paid off. Because of the successful internship experience thus far, S.T.R.O.N.G. offered Pollack a permanent part-time position with the organization after she graduates this May.
“I definitely feel like a stronger social worker since I’ve been at S.T.R.O.N.G.,” Pollack said. “It’s been a great experience.”
Making the Community S.T.R.O.N.G.
S.T.R.O.N.G. offers its program resources to youth in all stages of adolescence, at every level from elementary school through college. By empowering youth and the community to become proactive about issues in their area, S.T.R.O.N.G. hopes to catalyze positive change at the community and individual levels.
“Just because [a youth]makes one mistake, doesn’t mean it has to define them across their lifespan,” Pollack said.
As an intern, Pollack works mostly with elementary-aged children, conducting after-school programs and managing a caseload of 5 students. They spend the first hour on schoolwork and homework, with the second hour dedicated toward what they call Why Try, a social-emotional-learning-based group project that “really focuses on that team effort, those friendships, and fostering the community they have at the school, and beyond,” Pollack said.
S.T.R.O.N.G. does even more through its community programs. Pollack mentioned a monthly lecture series at the Uniondale library on the school-to-prison pipeline and the importance of education. S.T.R.O.N.G. even sent families to a Long Island Nets basketball game for a fun night out.
“We want to have fun with our students while also teaching them life lessons,” Pollack said.
Opportunities for Growth Outside the Comfort Zone
Social workers are never stagnant. It’s a lifelong learning profession, whether through continuing education hours or versatile career changes. Sometimes learning the intricacies of that new job can be scary and uncomfortable, but it’s within the unknown where true growth occurs.
Lucky for Pollack, she’s realized this early on in her social work journey. When first approached with the opportunity to work at S.T.R.O.N.G., she wasn’t sure if it would be the right fit.
“Going into the internship, I thought, how am I going to build rapport with these students? I haven’t experienced what they’ve experienced,” Pollack said. “But the coursework at GSS has taught me how to be a stronger social worker—how to build rapport with students or individuals that don’t necessarily look like me, and that’s been something that’s been emphasized in all of our classes.”
“I love the students,” Pollack continued. “I call them my kiddos. And I’m very close with my fellow interns.”
Pollack said S.T.R.O.N.G. has made it easy to navigate a new path and “held her hand” in all the right ways while giving her autonomy as she grew more comfortable in the role. The organization provides shadowing from supervisors, who give interns feedback and guidance.
So, while Pollack may have been taking a leap of faith, she could rest assured that the organization was there with a safety net.
Looking Toward the Future
She’ll take on even more responsibility in Pollack’s permanent role at S.T.R.O.N.G. Pollack will be assigned to the organization’s summer programs and those during the school year, a bigger student caseload and more home visits.
“If any issue comes up, if we haven’t seen a student in a while, if they’ve been sick, if the family calls and says, hey, we need your help, I’ll be doing more of that,” she said about the latter.
Pollack said her MSW education has taught her valuable skills she can use at S.T.R.O.N.G. before and after graduation.
“Everything we’re learning in class directly applies to my internship,” she said. “I can use CBT [Cognitive Behavioral Therapy] for all these students in some way, shape, or form, and I can definitely use trauma focus therapy to really try to help these students cope with the difficulties they’re experiencing in everyday life.”
And her time at Fordham has been exciting since day one.
“Fordham was the only school I applied to, and luckily, I got in,” she said. “My mom was on the phone, and I told her, Mom, I got in. I was crying.”
With just two months left in her graduate program, Pollack’s experience and skills leave her confident in entering the field. What advice does she give students seeking a dream internship or job? Get comfortable with being uncomfortable.
“Growth doesn’t happen until you’re outside your comfort zone; you could stay in your comfort zone for the rest of your life,” Pollack said, “or you could try something new, and like in my experience, you can fall in love with the population you never thought you’d ever have the chance to work with.”