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Dec 13 / Julie Alter-Kay

The spirit of social work: Service as a holiday tradition

As Thanksgiving approached last month, Wayne State B.S.W. student Shamekia Schoffner was feeling preoccupied. She was looking forward to her family’s annual holiday tradition of a happy get together with food, warmth and laughter, but her recent volunteer work at a Detroit homeless shelter made her heart heavy at the thought of the many people in the city who would spend Thanksgiving hungry and alone.

Then, as she sat in her social work policy class, she felt empowered to do something. Her professor, Tonya Fleming-Fuller, mentioned that one year she had invited a family living in a shelter to come to her home for dinner.

“It was an ‘aha’ moment,” remembers Schoffner. “She planted a seed, and I said, ‘I‘m going to do something this year.’”

With help from classmates Amelia Allen, Angela Bell, Oliviah Marshall and Kelly Theile, Schoffner organized a food drive, reaching out to two B.S.W. classes for donations. The drive yielded four cases of canned and boxed food, which Schoffner delivered to Cass Community Social Services on Thanksgiving Day.

“I am so proud of her as an organizer and advocate,” Fleming-Fuller said of Schoffner. “She exemplifies the spirit of social work.”

Schoffner’s initiative also demonstrates the power of social work education to raise awareness about social and economic injustice. The volunteer work that motivated Schoffner to organize the food drive had fulfilled the service learning requirement of her social work methods class, taught by Reggie Huff, and took place at Neighborhood Service Organization (NSO), where Huff is director of homeless services and director of clinical training. While there, she participated in intake sessions and the Road Home, a unique mobile outreach program through which NSO staff make direct contact with homeless individuals living in the streets and encourage them to seek NSO services.

“I was out of my comfort zone,” Schoffner said, “and I appreciated that.”

Schoffner, who has decided to start a Thanksgiving tradition of service with her family, said the food drive was merely “consistent with social work.”

“A lot of the time we think about ourselves and not the next person, but social work is different and that’s why I love it,” she said. “Even if we helped to feed one person, I feel I was doing my job as a student, a social worker, and as a human being.”

Shamekia Schoffner