Interview with Jason Miller
Director of Social Services
GC Graduation Year
Why or how did you choose your field? Were there specific experiences that influenced you?
When I was in the 8th grade, I took a career test that reported I should be a Social Worker. I thought to myself what does a Social Worker do? Are they the people who take kids away from their families? I looked it up and discovered that it was a career that offered me the chance to help people. This seemed so incredible for an 8th grader trying to find a unique identity. While all my friends reported not knowing what they wanted to do after high school, I proudly reported to everyone I knew that I was going to be a Social Worker. Little did I know that I would actually become a Social Worker someday and that it would lead me into the lives of many incredible people.
In high school I went on many school and church service projects and led several fundraisers. These experiences heightened my realization about wanting to help people, but I was not sure how to go about helping in a meaningful way. I also began to notice that not everyone in our society had the same opportunities to succeed that I was experiencing in my life. This revelation made me realize for the first time that I not only wanted to help people, but I also wanted to understand why other people were struggling.
My eighth grade predictions came true when I attended Goshen College. The reasons I attended GC turned into many incredible reasons during my time in college, but becoming a Social Worker remained my main focus. During my time a GC ,I had so many incredible experiences in the classroom, SST, and in field placements. You understand quickly that to truly be an effective agent of change you have to self-reflect at all times. Helping is very difficult when you do not understand your own cultural and social biases. Professors pushed me to deal with issues of injustice concerning race, gender, class and many others.
I also learned at Goshen that I not only wanted to become a Social Worker, but I also wanted to use my leadership skills to run non-profit agencies. The professors at Goshen demonstrated that with further Social Work experience and a graduate degree that my leadership aspirations were possible.
During the past 11 years I have not regretted for a second the opportunities to grow and succeed in my career. I have worked with many challenging and unique people. Each has taught me a lesson on how “to help.” Social work has also helped me work in several different states, several unique nonprofit agencies and with many different client populations. It lead to my current role as Associate Executive Director at Bethesda Project in Philadelphia, PA. Bethesda Project is a great organization that helps homeless men and women off the street and into permanent housing. It is a privilege to serve in this capacity and attempt to help the homeless in Philadelphia.
What’s exciting about your job or this field?
The most exciting thing about the field of Social Work is that the possibilities to help are endless. Everyday offers multiple opportunities to work in collaboration with others to end a social problem for an individual or for our society. I currently am doing this with the homelessness in Philadelphia, but based on my career so far who knows what social problems I will be working on 5, 10 or 20 years from now.
Social work offers multiple opportunities to advance within nonprofit organizations. Whether you choose to do therapy, direct practice, case management, clinical supervision, community organization, policy advocacy or nonprofit leadership, your social work degree will enhance your ability to help deal with individual and societal issues. Social work allows you to ask the incredibly difficult questions that the rest of our society, frankly, is too scared to ask.
Social work finally offers the opportunity for an incredible amount of personal and professional growth. Currently on top of the responsibilities at Bethesda Project, I have added other activities to my social work career. These activities include mentoring bachelor and graduate school interns, membership of homeless and mental health coalitions in Philadelphia, membership of a board of directors at a nonprofit organization, and teaching a graduate level class at the University of Pennsylvania.
What has been a challenge in your career journey?
The biggest challenge for me is settling into a nonprofit agency that holds my interest for a long period of time. There are so many challenges facing the citizens of our society today that the amount of help I want to provide to everyone can be overwhelming. I have attempted to develop the necessary skills and experience in order to help many different populations (homeless, children, adults, elderly, mental health, addiction, etc), but feeling competent at all moments is overwhelming. My goal is to be diverse in my ability to help, but to have enough experience and knowledge to allow that to occur in many different settings and client populations is a major challenge. Also finding a nonprofit agency who fits my core values as a Social Worker and provides authentic help to its clients has been a journey that will span my entire career.
How did your liberal arts education assist you in your journey? Are there specific examples you can offer?
The liberal arts education I received at Goshen College enhanced my career as a Social Worker in many ways. As a Social Worker, you quickly learn that if you want to meet someone where they are in their moment of need, you have to accept them at the most basic human level. If you have ever taken the opportunity to relate to a person who lives in poverty, a homeless person or a drug addict, you begin to understand that each person has a unique experience and life story that most in our society choose to ignore. My liberal arts education required me to “name” the homeless and to tell their story even when most people do not want to listen. By using the advantages I have received in our society through family, community, housing, health care and education, I believe it is a requirement for me to do this.
The next step is to realize that ultimately it is not about you and the good deeds that you want to offer. It is, however, about the other person doing better each day and being able to problem solve so they have the same opportunities that I have had in my life. During my time at Goshen College this became a realization for me during many diverse types of classes, field experiences and especially during SST. I thought during the service portion of SST I would provide help to those in need, but in reality they provided help to me. These experiences taught me a lot about removing my own biases, needs and desires from the helping process.
Did anyone offer you some memorable advice that you’d like to pass on? Or…what advice would you give to a young person just starting out?
I have had numerous mentors and supervisors in my career who have shaped me as a Social Worker. Each has had a massive impact on my development in my career. It is has also created my desire to pass on their wisdom and experience to other Social Workers and social work students. Social work is a field that if you chose it as a career will cause you to feel every emotion you can imagine. Some days it is invigorating, frustrating, devastating and other days it is extremely rewarding. You have to be idealistic in one moment and realistic in other moments to believe that meaningful change in our society is possible. Change can only happen through a great amount of patience by building relationship with the people and communities that you are working with. In our society this is the opposite of how we currently do things. We are fast-paced, multitasking machines that are extremely disjointed from each other. The gaps that exist in this system for poor in our country are only widening. Social work provides the incredible opportunity to name the poor, and to change how we do things on an individual and societal level. It is a great privilege and honor to participate in a small way in the change process each and every day.