Coffee cup

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21 Lorrie Greenhouse Gardella   21 coffee cup

I entered social work as a settlement house volunteer, where I enjoyed working with children of various ages and learning about social work with groups. I studied law and social work, and I served as a consultant in children’s law and as a social worker for adults with developmental disabilities, before beginning my career in social work education. As a professor and college administrator, I have sought to improve educational access for underserved populations. My basic understanding of social work practice arose from my early volunteer experiences: 1) the client comes first; 2) in children’s games, stop at the peak of interest; and 3) every person deserves a friend.


I chose coffee cup because …

… Many years ago, my father and I stopped on the way to work at the Oh Boy! Luncheonette, a tiny coffee shop in a down-at-heal industrial neighborhood.   Every morning at 5:30 a.m., the same eight men were drinking coffee in the Oh Boy, exchanging jokes and barbs with red-haired waitress and with one another. They saw each other only there and then, but through the years, they had learned about each other’s families, jobs, hobbies, and milestones in life. When the owner’s daughter was married, they all attended the wedding. It was a naturally occurring group.

Today the Oh Boy! is gone, but a Jamaican grocery is thriving in its place. Perhaps the same dynamics apply. In various coffee shops and diners, regular customers take their customary places, sometimes talking with one another, sometimes just nodding hello, depending upon the ethos of the place. The moments of familiarity offer the possibility of belonging. We social workers create possibilities of belonging, where they might not otherwise occur.

One thought on “Coffee cup”

  1. This story reminds me of a conversation I had on the train with a passenger, who told me about a friend she made on a pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostella. For reasons I do not fully know, this friend decided to open and run a Hostel on the pilgrimage route. Apparently, this was ‘the thing’ that gave him the meaning he was searching for. Whether he also saw this as a business opportunity, I don’t know. Perhaps…He needed the means to exist, as we all do. But I imagine that the ethos of this Hostel, the coffees and conversations people had, which must have occurred quite naturally -like my conversation with the woman on the train-, gave people a sense of belonging and created opportunities for new friendships and support networks. Of course, the friend of my acquaintance wasn’t a social worker, and wasn’t doing ‘social work’. But he ‘designed’ and outlined a ‘House’ for good things to happen (we hope and want to believe), within a time and space where people had more good will, were more generous and selfless than in their every-day work or leisure habitats, ruled by other kinds of rules. I am not including the family habitat in the equation, since he wasn’t outlining such habitats, except perhaps for himself. So, what’s the point I want to make? The way the human body lives, whether knowingly or not, within its own aura, enjoying a good, or bad, or complex relationship with it, social work as a profession and social workers as professionals, are surrounded by the energies of the social milieu. Everything becomes then important: the relationships we build with schools, teachers, health providers, volunteers, charities, small businesses, the media, Universities, politicians, etc, help or hinder what we are trying to achieve. It could also lead some people to believe that if the social milieu, the local communities are strong, supportive – naturally emerging and developing, with some help from some social entrepreneurs-, if people’s work ethic is aiming high and the healthcare services are good to excellent, then social work could be partially absorbed and transformed in this new mesh. It may also mean that these ever growing communities with good will, could be perceived as ‘No Man’s Land’ by some keen to make profit, whilst responding to needs, Gov. initiatives, all within the boundaries of policies and legislations. So, radical social work ethos and thinking, wearing a 21st century lens, is still needed.


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