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Social(ly Distanced) Work in the Time of Corona

There’s not much that hasn’t changed in the whirlwind of months since COVID-19 took the United States by storm. According to 22-year-old Brianna Moreno, a 2020 graduate of the NYU Silver School of Social Work, her field has been no exception.

Students in Silver begin their training with a lot of introspective work, confronting facets of their identities and unpacking their internalized biases. In Brianna’s words, it’s all about “learning about people and societal schemas,” to better equip them for the heavy work they go into. This training is put into practice during students’ senior year field placements, wherein they are assigned to an agency and work closely with clients.

Brianna was assigned to Nido de Esperanza, a Washington Heights-based organization serving mothers with children up to three years old. The constituency is largely young, Hispanic, unemployed, and undocumented women. Nido de Esperanza hopes to break the cycle of poverty through community-based advocacy. They provide mutual support groups, wherein mothers get to meet each other and make connections. They also host workshops about things like applying for government assistance or to jobs, as well as on the importance of self care; they often have speakers come in to educate the women on a variety of topics. Brianna worked one-on-one with mothers assigned as her clients, chatting and assisting them where needed. When COVID-19 struck New York City, the program was upended.

“It went remote and I was no longer able to work one-on-one with the moms,” Brianna said. Her job shifted to mostly administrative work, filling out “COVID Disbursement Forms” to organize the allocation of resources to the women in the program. At the Nido de Esperanza base, though, things were a bit more hectic. There are only two full-time social workers in office, each checking in with twenty to thirty clients on a daily to weekly basis, depending on the level of need. Additional check-ins are carried out through WhatsApp.

The new digital landscape diminished some of the core practices of social work. “The nature of social work is that it’s a very interpersonal profession,” Brianna shared. “You get to see [your clients] and their body language.” 

This new normal wasn’t just hard on the social workers, Brianna elaborated: “For a lot of these moms, being in the physical space was a refuge for them, releasing them of the burdens of being at home.”

The changes weren’t all bad, though. The pandemic forced social workers to find new and creative ways to engage with clients and their families. Brianna recounted creating videos to show the children about DIY projects they could do in their homes.

“I shot a video that was like ‘DIY music instruments with things in your house!’ It’s a lot of ‘what can you do inside your house, let’s make this fun.’” 

The pandemic also forced these mothers to really utilize their resourcefulness.

“For a lot of the moms, there’s a sort of reliance on being in this space.” she began. “A lot of the places in which they were seeking help and assistance shut down and they had to navigate and strengthen that resourcefulness and independence that was always there.”

Brianna is adamant about one thing: these mothers didn’t need assistance. “I can’t even express [the way] these moms are so resilient, just their ability to tackle life and keep going for their children and themselves.”

Brianna plans to wrap up her work with Nido de Esperanza by the end of this month, and is currently figuring out what the future has in store for her. She’s applying for her Masters in Social Work next fall and hopes to specialize in working with youth.

If you’d like to learn more about Nido de Esperanza and their work, visit their website here.

Hi! My name is Monique Ezeh and I attend NYU, where I’m majoring in Politics with a double minor in Creative Writing and Journalism. I’ve long considered myself a storyteller and a self-proclaimed “truth-teller” (as pretentious as that sounds). I write about many things, some lighthearted and some not, but my passion for activism influences much of my work. When I'm not writing, you can probably find me binging movies under Netflix's "cerebral" tag, crying about Audre Lorde, or baking banana bread (or all 3-- I can multitask)! You can check out some of my work at https://linktr.ee/moniqueezeh !
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