In honor of National Social Work Month, Lutheran Services of Georgia's Interim CEO Gary Johnstone reflects on the importance of social workers and how his background in social work has impacted his career in social services.
After I received my undergraduate degree in Psychology, I applied to do entry-level Social Work. I wanted to find out what it meant to work in the community and to be of service to people where they live. I accepted a job with Gordon County Division of Family and Children Services in Calhoun, Georgia, where I was a Services worker for about 50 family units. The families I served were primarily Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC) mothers and their children, along with several folks on Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) due to physical or developmental issues.
My duties included Child Protective Services work, allowing me to develop my understanding of what was needed to strengthen families before they required intervention from the CPS unit. I also did Community Development work, organizing the county's first Inter-Agency Council designed to eliminate gaps between the agencies that were impossible for our clients to navigate. We designed a referral system that tasked the referring agency with making sure the clients made it to their next appointment, even if that appointment was with another agency. This included a transportation system that depended upon community volunteers, and was very successful.
My Director recognized me for my efforts and I was awarded a full scholarship by the State of Georgia so I could attend graduate school to obtain my Masters of Social Work. The next two years solidified my career direction as I focused on developing my Management and Planning skills from a Social Services perspective.
During my nearly 15 years at Lutheran Services of Georgia, I have used my social worker background in various ways. I was brought in to develop new programs that could be taken statewide. My knowledge of community-based Social Work prepared me to negotiate with State of Georgia officials in developing the Specialized Foster Care and FACES programs. Later, we were able to develop the Family Intervention Services programs. The programs are all aimed at supporting individuals and families in their communities. Without my MSW degree and my broad experiential background, I would not have been seen by the LSG Board and CEO and State officials as a leader for these programs. As Chief Operating Officer and now interim CEO, I am experienced in almost all facets of non-profit agency management, thanks to my MSW degree and my over 30 years in the field.
I am excited to celebrate Social Work Month. I believe that it is important for a new generation of committed people to take the lead in building coalitions to identify universal needs, envisioning more than simple "more, bigger, and better." We need a new reality, a way to serve and protect our most vulnerable people with the best intentions, the best systems, and the best outcomes possible. Who better to develop that new reality than Social Workers, particularly those who have a clear vision of what we need for a "best" world?
For more information about Social Work Month 2015, visit the National Association of Social Workers website.