Kerri Dunn-Bales: Student Experience

 

Greetings, School of Social Work, and Happy Holidays. So who’s as exhausted as I am? Never mind. Put your hands down. I’m too tired to count. Congratulations on finishing another semester, and thanks for this opportunity to introduce myself.

I’m a non-traditional (read: old) student on my second go-round at university. I have a BA in English Literature from Northeastern State University in Tahlequah, where I minored in drama. After I had my daughter in 2002, my husband and I moved back to Norman where I discovered that jobs in the arts were practically non-existent. I gave up and accepted two jobs in decidedly different arenas than I’d have previously considered: director of a local church’s Wednesday after-school program which happened to serve the children of several families who’d recently immigrated from Cameroon, and caregiver for an 84 year-old woman living with mental illness. I spent my evenings planning lessons and activities I hoped would help children who were struggling to adapt to their new lives, and my days advocating for a woman who had been abandoned by her family, dismissed by her doctors, and treated as invisible by her community. It didn’t take long for me to realize that though I may be an arts geek, social work was my vocation. So here I am, nice to meet you.

I’m serving my practicum at the Homeless Alliance, and it has been a rich and varied experience, to say the least. I’ve come to think of them as a sort of mothership, housing multiple agencies and providing a hub where those agencies and many others come together in collaboration to serve people experiencing homelessness in OKC. It’s an innovative framework which has allowed me to work with more organizations, and try more things, than I could have expected from any other placement. I have served with the coordinate case management team to get clients into housing programs. I’ve worked alongside Be the Change, Catholic Charities, The Curbside Chronicle, Legal Aid and the VA. I assessed veterans for rapid-rehousing at Sooner Stand-Down 2015, and helped twelve of them move into permanent supportive housing the same day. I’ve participated in street outreach with LGBTQ youth, engaged individuals living with mental illness in idea generation for a meaningful activity projects, and interviewed men recently released from long-term incarceration about how they might create a platform for peer advocacy within the day shelter. Most recently, I worked with the Music Moves Mountains Foundation to build relationships with local artists and musicians, many of whom have agreed to donate their time and talents to the day shelter guests. I could go on, but we all have stuff to do.

Had someone told me I’d be serving so many populations in so many capacities, I’d have been concerned I might leave my practicum experience with a lack of focus, having learned too little about too much. I’d have been wrong. I have no doubt now that I belong in community practice, and that I am utterly at-home working to redefine relationships between communities and those they have disenfranchised and dismissed. I have doubted from time to time whether I’d ever manage such clarity of purpose. It’s not a bad way to end the semester.

Kerri Dunn-Bales
BSW Student

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