Venecia Foster’s first inclination was to be a pharmacist. But the tendency to want to help people, a feeling she held her entire life, called her into the field of social work. The native of Tallahassee, Florida and Florida State University graduate has never regretted the decision, and this year she was selected by her peers as the Atlanta Public Schools Social Worker of the Year. Learn more about Venecia including what she and her husband plan to do now that their daughter is headed to college in the fall.
Why do you think your peers selected you as the district social worker of the year?
Let me start by saying how truly humbled I am to have been selected by my colleagues as this year’s social worker of the year. I’ve always been considered a people person who can interact with pretty much anyone. I’m always willing to help others in any way. I also pride myself in trying to be positive even in the midst of not so positive situations. I would like to think that my personality, willingness to help and positive nature are the reasons why my colleagues selected me as social worker of the year.
When did you know for sure that you wanted to become a school social worker?
Being a PK (pastor’s kid) and a PGK (pastor’s grandkid), my family has always been service driven. I grew up watching my parents and grandparents feed the hungry and provide clothing for those who are in need. I guess, you can say service is in my bloodline. I always wanted to be in a helping profession but didn’t learn about the social work major until my freshman year in college. I knew that my work would be with children and their families however, I didn’t learn of school social work until my daughter started grade school. It was shortly after I lost my mom to breast cancer. The school social worker at her school reached out to me to inquire about my daughter participating in a grief support group. My interactions her school peeked my interest and caused me to explore a career in school social work.
Do you remember your first case?
My first job out of undergraduate school was with an agency in Tallahassee, FL that provided subsidized child care services called Kids Incorporated. As a social worker, I completed initial assessments to determine the needs of the families requesting services. My first case was with a single mother who had recently experienced some financial hardship due to alcoholism. After receiving her consent I presented her case to our local newspaper. The response from the community was overwhelming. Every need that she had was met. I’m attaching the article that was published in the Tallahassee Democrat on February 16, 1998. I’m also attaching a letter written by the client after the case was closed.
Has that case influenced how you go about your work today? If so, how?
Absolutely! I will always treat individuals with the care and kindness that I would want for myself or any member of my family. Life can be hard. I want to help others, not make their lives harder. I made that my mantra back in 1998. I continue to practice that in my role as a school social worker in Atlanta Public Schools.
What aspect of your job do you wish people understood better?
A lot of times people don’t understand what a school social worker is or does. Our true role is a serve as a link between the school, the student and their community. We are advocates for the student and their families but are not viewed in that manner. It’s hard because I want to help families who are in need, not further complicate their lives.
What would you say are the key characteristics for a successful school social worker?
Flexibility and adaptability. As a school social worker, we have to always be flexible and able to adapt to whatever task is before us. No workday is ever the same. I start most mornings with a to-do list but I have to be aware that my list can change as any given moment. It’s just the nature of the job.
You and your peers work in a very emotionally charged field. What do you do to relax and decompress?
I treat myself to a spa day or half-day at least twice a year. I strategically plan those dates for December (during winter break) and June (summer break). I use that as my time to rejuvenate myself for the upcoming semester/ school year. I also enjoy cooking and traveling with my family.
Has your work influenced how you and your husband raised your daughter? If so, how?
Most definitely! We try to listen to her more and allow her to express herself more freely. We also have learned not to overwhelm her in regards to her academics.
Your daughter is about to head to college in the fall. What do you plan to do with the extra spare time?
I plan to become more active in my sorority (Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc.). I would also like to be a sponsor for a club or sports activity at my school.