Professional Experience Versus Lived Experience

My name is Stephon Schaller and I am the current Marketing and Recruitment Director for Partnerships for Permanence. Outside of P4P, I currently do Case Management for people with disabilities.

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It took a lot of work to get to where I am today. I grew up in the foster care system. During this time in my life I had a multitude of social workers that helped me along my journey. Many times, growing up I thought that my social workers did not know what they were doing and that they did not care about me or how I felt. I felt like I was just another client, and another problem to solve. Now, having been in the social worker profession for a year, I can say that it isn’t as black and white as I once perceived. As a social worker there are many things that you can do and also many things that you can’t do. As much as I would like to fix everything and say yes to everything that my clients need, that isn’t always an option. I wasn’t able to understand this as a child, but now I understand that my social workers were doing the best they could in the roles they had, and with the resources that they had to help me.

I think for me there came a point in my life where I had to take a hard look at myself and decide that I was no longer going to be a victim. I looked in the mirror and realized that the things that happened to me growing up were terrible and should not happen to anyone, but I shouldn’t live my life reliving the past and being angry about things that were beyond my control. I get to write the narrative for my life. I get to decide who I become and make those changes in my actions, behaviors, and thoughts to get to where I want to be.

One thing that struck me was that the decision to better my life was mine. I was told by a multitude of social workers, teachers, and parents that I needed to behave - that I needed to make something of myself. But the decision to do that was mine alone to make. And it still is. No one gets to tell me that I am less than or that I can’t do something. If I set my mind to something, I can get there no matter what it takes. I choose to say and think positive things about myself every morning.

I am resilient, I am strong, I am a good person, I am worth it, and I deserve love.

One important thing that I did to really start myself on this journey was to ask the hard questions that made me uncomfortable. What does blaming my social workers for their actions get me? What do I want to really become? Who is affected by my choices and my actions? What will it take for me to be truly happy? These questions put many things into perspective for me. I decided to take every opportunity I was given.

I love the path that I have chosen. I won’t lie and say that it was easy. I had many struggles, many challenges throughout my college experience. The main thing that helped me was to understand that it is okay to ask for help. Growing up in the child welfare system taught me to be afraid to speak up, to be afraid to ask when I needed things because I should be able to figure it out. It is important to remember that our opinions matter and to speak up and out against things that are unjust in our society. This is how we will make a change for the better in our own lives and in others.

As social worker now, I believe that I have a rare perspective having been on both sides of the system. I want to channel my experiences and educate others in the social work profession about how it really is to be a child of the system. I love the work that I am doing, and I can’t wait to continue to advance my career and reach as many people as possible by speaking my truth.

One thing that I won’t do is hide who I am or be ashamed of where I came from. I was born into an unsafe home and taken away from my biological parents, and I was in and out of many abusive foster homes growing up. I was adopted by a family that turned out to not be suited for me. I found my forever home with a family who loves me, and I love them. Everyone has a story. I will always remember my roots, my past, and my experiences in the system. I made it through it and I am proud of myself for becoming the man I’ve always wanted to be.

Written by: Stephon Schaller

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