Social Work students make a difference at Neighborhood House

Neighborhood House is home to a number of social services and programs, from food and housing support, to education services, to crisis resources. Through these programs, families can find assistance and support to fulfill their basic needs, allowing them to pursue other goals.

Among these programs you’ll find interns pursuing degrees in social work. Both undergraduate and graduate students from colleges across the area work with Neighborhood House and participants as part of their coursework and field work hours. A mutually-beneficial relationship, students gain the experience they need and Neighborhood House is able to expand their capacity and support more families.

Students are required to be supervised and supported by a field instructor. And at Neighborhood House, that instructor is Barb Swaiman. With her undergraduate and graduate degrees in social work, her 20 years as a school social worker, her experience as a case manager at another nonprofit, and her time teaching at Augsburg University, Barb is the perfect mentor for the slew of students who pass through Neighborhood House each year.

“My number one focus is to make sure Neighborhood House participants receive the services they are entitled to,” says Barb. “The way I do that is I provide instruction and supervision to students, and serve as the liaison between the universities and the interns and Neighborhood House staff.”

Having had to complete similar required hours for her own degrees, Barb explains the importance of field work. “The whole purpose of having an internship, especially as a social worker, is that you can only learn so much from a textbook and a classroom,” Barb explains. “It’s really all about working with real humans, and it’s difficult to learn that in a textbook or an article that was assigned to you.”

Julie, a student pursuing her Masters of Social Work, works alongside Family Centers’ staff on case management. “[Family Center’s] goal is to help families reach sustainability and empower them to live the lives that they need and want,” she says. “We help them connect to resources to do that and to overcome some of the tough stuff that arises in life.”

Zaki, also pursuing her Masters of Social Work, works in the Housing Stability program making sure participants receive the assistance they need. When she joined the program back in September, Neighborhood House had received a large federal grant to help people impacted by COVID-19 pay their housing costs. “That kind of took over the department for a while,” she says. “We were working with participants to make sure they had documentation that would allow them to go through the process … For me, and for a lot of the interns, we were like ‘What do you need? Put us there.’”

She mentions there are other food support programs in the community, but says there’s less availability of housing support. “There’s not as many resources for housing or even other needs Neighborhood House covers, like toiletries and cleaning supplies,” says Zaki. “I think it’s our job to be the flexible ones and figure out how we can best help the participant … because they already have enough stress on their plate.

Both Julie and Zaki chose to intern with Neighborhood House because of its diverse community and the number of services provided. Although they were both excited to work with many staff and participants in the Wellstone Center (a community hub where Neighborhood House is located), the pandemic put a hiccup in their plans. The building was hosting limited programming and it was closed to the public for many months. But even though it wasn’t a traditional internship, they’re both thankful for the experience.

“I think I’ve learned a lot of things that no one would have anticipated,” says Julie. Zaki shares, “I’ve learned so much. It’s been a masterclass in you-never-know-what’s-gonna-happen and you do what you need to do. Where you are needed is where you can help the most.”