I find myself constantly reminded of the social inequalities that occur in our local and global community and, as such, I have committed myself to working towards equity in access and opportunity.
With great excitement and ambition I am applying to pursue a Masters of Social Work with the goal of becoming an effective agent of change. One of the most important conditions in my life that prompted me to think about social work for a career is the relative security and comfort that I enjoy as a young, middle-class Canadian. I find myself constantly reminded of the social inequities that occur in our local and global community and, as such, I have committed myself to working towards equity in access and opportunity. With that commitment, I have identified three particular areas of interest that have shaped me already and will continue to do so in the future. Those areas are homelessness and poverty, child development and family education, and youth work.
During my university studies I noticed a lack of understanding and interest within the university about local and regional issues. Stemming from that observation, I made a concerted effort to involve myself in the local community, and also to create bridges between the university and the local community for students to get involved. With that resolve, I began the Out in the Cold (OITC) philanthropic event that raises funds and awareness of homelessness, poverty and housing stability in the local community. The event involves an awareness campaign, as well as, students and faculty sleeping outside on a winter night. To date, 5 OITC events have occurred over 3 years and raised over $11,500 which is strategically donated to various organizations that address the wide issues facing homelessness and poverty. Through my activities with Out in the Cold, I became actively engaged with the wider community of individuals and organizations that are tackling the issue of homelessness at the front-lines, including joining a local organization called, Opportunities Waterloo Region, as a board member. From this position, I am able to network with other individuals and organizations that are actively facilitating poverty prevention and reduction strategies. The greatest lesson that I have been able to take away from these experiences is that homelessness and poverty are not isolated consequences of individual choice, but rather the result of a systemic failure of our society to provide equal opportunities to individuals and families that come from diverse backgrounds. Homelessness is very much interwoven with many issues including health, family characteristics, income, geographic planning, and employment. I have learned that many determinants and related factors must be considered when addressing homelessness. Only when all those perspectives are acknowledged can we begin to effectively impact the issue of homelessness and, to a larger extent, poverty.
My second area of interest is within the field of child development and family education. Healthy child and family development represents the foundation on which to build a successful society. Through my work in this area, I have discovered that I have a unique ability to form meaningful relationships with children, parents and guardians alike. I have further developed this skill through various volunteer and paid positions with organizations such as the Families and Schools Together (FAST) Program and KidsAbility. I have enjoyed the opportunities I’ve had to build personal relationships with families and children in the community, especially during the FAST Program where I acted as the team leader for a diverse group of professionals including child and youth workers, settlement workers, therapists, teachers, and school administrators. I have a keen interest in parenting techniques and the communicative ability to effectively convey those techniques. On several occasions, I have been asked to participate in programs as a role model for young male parents. Within certain populations the notion that young fathers can be as nurturing as mothers can seem distant and emasculating. As a role model to these fathers, I would demonstrate appropriate child play and attempt to lesson any sense of uncomfortable, self-consciousness. Through such programs, I have come to understand the monumental importance of the family unit in the development of a child, as well as, the support of schools, neighbours and community centres.
The third area of interest is youth work and largely represents my professional experience within the social work field. While working at Pathways to Education as a Student/Parent Support Worker my responsibilities included providing ongoing communication, advocacy, and programming for at-risk high school students, their parents/guardians, and secondary schools. While working directly with the youth in the program, my focus was on increasing their self-confidence, self-esteem and academic competency. Prior to that position, I have worked at other adolescent-focused organizations including a youth shelter in downtown Kitchener and an adolescent treatment centre. My time working at the adolescent treatment centre has been one of my most formative experiences working with youth. At the centre, I worked with convicted adolescents that were characterized as having severe psychiatric and behavioural disorders. Through that position I gained much experience in planning and running activities to promote mental health and healthy social behaviours. Often being the youngest staff member at these organizations I was able to better relate to the youth as I was perceived differently. I developed relationships with the youth where I could listen and provide support as a friend, but act with authority when warranted. I have also come to understand the deep sense of marginalization and oppression that youth often face when they come from constrained family and community environments.
The experiences discussed above, along with others have given me a solid foundation from which to continue my education. I am confident that I have gained exposure in diverse capacities in the field of social work and that I am ready to undertake a professional degree. A continued education will allow me to build my skills and knowledge to become an effective agent of change in an area that I feel passionately about.
Email menpetten [at] gmail [dot] com
AboutNick Petten’s research and consulting interests centres on the way the private economic sector influences children’s well-being and rights. This interest began while pursuing a Masters in Early Childhood Studies at Ryerson University, during which he also worked at Microsoft within a national education initiative. The combination of learning and doing brought some powerful realizations about how businesses and the private sector regard children as consumers. Those realizations has made it his social justice imperative to protect the vulnerabilities of children and childhood in the commercial marketplace while advocating for and consulting on socially responsible business practices.