March is National Social Work Month
March is National Social Work Month. To celebrate, CAP is highlighting the work of our three school-based social workers. CAP has provided social workers for the Riverhead Central School District since 1986. In fact, CAP was the first organization to place an outside social worker in Riverhead schools.
According the National Association of Social Workers (NASW), this year’s theme is Social Workers Are Essential. Social workers provide an array of essential services and effect positive change with individuals, families, groups and entire communities.
Social work is one of the fastest growing professions in the United States. Nearly 800,000 people are expected to be employed as social workers by 2028.
“We are proud of the special role CAP social workers play in Riverhead,” said Felicia Scocozza, CAP executive director. “They fill gaps between school and community services for many students and families. They also help navigate difficult life challenges. This is especially true now, during the COVID-19 pandemic. Without missing a beat, they adapted to the circumstances, and successfully became the model for re-inventing social work.”
CAP social workers provide individual, group, family and crisis counseling in Riverhead schools. They also provide evidence-based prevention. One key element of these prevention programs is training students to act as role models and peer educators. In CAP Peer Leadership, middle and high school students teach a drug and alcohol prevention program to Pulaski Street School 5th and 6th grade students. Similarly, the Peacemakers are youth-led anti-bullying groups for 4th graders at Phillips and Roanoke Avenue schools.
A Wealth of Experience
CAP social workers Karen Keller, Shannon Kutner and Aimee Meyer have a combined 88 years of experience in the field. Professional social workers must earn a Master’s Degree in Social Work (MSW), including two years of field experience. They must pass a NYS licensing exam and maintain their license with ongoing continuing education.
This wealth of experience allows CAP’s social workers to find unique solutions to meet the growing needs of Riverhead students. It also allowed them to pivot as a result of the pandemic. They seamlessly took their in-person counseling and leadership programs to the virtual platform.
Karen Keller is CAP’s middle school social worker and clinical supervisor for the team. Keller is CAP’s longest-serving employee. Currently in her 29th year at CAP, she credits her mother for recommending this special career path. “I knew I wanted to work with children but I didn’t want to be a teacher,” she says. “I knew very little about social work at the time.”
Keller says it is the students that bring joy to her work. “I enjoy working with them one-on-one and teaching peer leaders about prevention.”
Keller quickly sharpened her technology skills in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Peer Leadership training was moved to Google Meet, and coordinating students by cohort was tricky. Since peer leaders could not present the monthly in-person lessons at Pulaski, they recorded voiceovers for CAP’s virtual prevention program. “It was challenging not being face to face with the students during training,” she says. “Body language is an important skill we teach. But the peer leaders like using the Google Meet platform. They are so happy ‘to see’ each other.”
Outside of work Keller enjoys crafting, and spending time with her adult children. She’s also building on her technology skills by learning design software and photography. Those who know her appreciate her positive attitude. “When things are tough, I always say, ‘This too shall pass.’ Life is ups and downs, we just need to accept and handle the hard times.”
Shannon Kutner is CAP’s elementary school social worker. She has been with CAP for nine years, splitting time between Roanoke and Phillips Avenue Elementary schools. Kutner says she became a social worker because “I love helping people, communities and organizations be the best they can be.”
Kutner created the Peacemakers program in both schools after a student said she wanted to address bullying. Under her direction, these students lead The Great Kindness Challenge each year. District-wide participation in this event resulted in Riverhead becoming a Kindness Certified School District by the worldwide organization, Kids for Peace. In 2019, the peacemakers received the United for Kindness Award from PACER’s National Bullying Prevention Center.
“My peacemakers have won awards, received accolades, and even appeared on News 12,” she says. “I am so proud of them. These programs strengthen students’ relationships with the community and the positive press generates community support.”
Most recently, Kutner and the peacemakers coordinated the 2021 Virtual Kindness Challenge. Students throughout the district wrote over 1,000 letters of gratitude to essential workers in the community.
The COVID-19 pandemic created challenges for Kutner. “Initially, I was unable to reach some of my students and their families,” she says. “Thankfully, the district worked hard to get every student connected. But the stress that affects my students, their families, and my colleagues is ongoing. Creating meaningful connections with them has helped with this.”
Kutner enjoys spending time with her family, attending her children’s sporting and musical events, and going to the beach. Her favorite quote is Ghandi’s, “Be the change you want to see in the world.”
Aimee Meyer is CAP’s high school social worker. She is in her third year with CAP, but has been in the field for 24 years. Meyer says that social work allows her to be a better version of herself through working with others.
“Speaking to people and being an advocate always came naturally to me,” she says. “I found that social work allows me to assist others in their own journeys and be a positive catalyst.”
Meyer also sees her students as advocates. “My job is a perfect balance of prevention counseling and working with youth towards positive change in the community,” she says. “Working with youth in the Peer Leadership program is truly a joy. The school-community connection that CAP has established enables both the students and me to feel like active advocates for the future of our community.”
Meyer says the pandemic significantly impacted both her and her students, challenging her to be creative and flexible. “My ability to adapt to technology and virtual platforms is essential to staying connected to students and families,” she says. “In this adaptability there are new and exciting ways to engage others and be creative.” In addition to training peer leaders to record voiceovers for CAP’s virtual Pulaski Program, she has led them to create positive videos aimed at students, essential workers, and community members.
When not working, Meyer enjoys gardening, going to the beach, and spending time with her family.
A Strong and Supportive Team
Although CAP social workers serve different populations across multiple school buildings, they work closely together and function as a strong and supportive team. This approach ensures CAP’s prevention philosophy and mission are the foundation for the wide variety of services and programs they offer.
“We all bring different experiences and strengths to the table,” says Keller. “We really bring out the best in each other.”
“CAP social workers are essential here in Riverhead,” adds Scocozza. “We wouldn’t have it any other way.”