By Catherine Donnelly
Sometimes the path to a career begins with an unexpected experience. Gavin Griffin, MSW ’21, started participating in activities with The Boys & Girls Club of East Aurora (BGCEA) when he was in elementary school and his ongoing involvement has shaped the kind of social worker he decided to become.
“The club is the place that sparked my desire to work with people and give back to my community. It is through this organization and those who have worked there that I discovered my passion for working with children and teens.” In particular, George Davidson, the former Teen Director at BGCEA, provided the support and encouragement Griffin needed to advance to college.
Griffin selected Hilbert College for their Human Services major, which was a good first step towards his goal of working with young people. In fact, after Davidson left his position at BGCEA, Griffin eventually took it over. However, there was still a huge gap in services that only a social worker could provide, and since the previous individual working at BGCEA had left the position Griffin decided to attend UB to gain the needed credentials.
Having personally benefited from access to a social worker as a teen, he expected his field placement experiences to be equally fulfilling. However, it took some time to fully engage with the field placements and MSW curriculum, but once he settled into a system of work, study, volunteering, and fun, he found that the whole process was very manageable.
“When I look back at my time at UB, I have to say that my classes with Susan Green and Peter Sobota were the most beneficial to me. I have been able to directly connect their teachings into my work,” continued Griffin.
“If I were to give anyone advice on how to maintain a balance between the many roles they fill, I would say don't feel guilty about your schedule and what you are able and unable to do,” said Griffin. “Graduate school is hard and having a full or part-time job on top of that or even a family of your own to take care of makes it even harder. If you only ever have a few moments to really do something for yourself, embrace those moments and don’t feel guilty about them.”
Griffin balanced his graduate work with his role of Teen Director throughout the pandemic. The experience helped him appreciate the relationships he has with friends and family and strengthened his desire to work with children and teens. “It taught me that community and people are more important to me than material concerns. Throughout the pandemic, I was able to continue meeting with both of my youth groups. Being able to maintain that sense of comradery and connection meant a lot to me and the members that I serve.”
When asked about career advice for future social work students, Griffin suggested, “Figure out who you want to serve most in this life and do everything you can to make yourself as equipped to serve them as possible. Don't be afraid to ask for help when you need it and make connections with your fellow classmates and professors. Our field is full of people whose main desire is to help others, so do not hesitate to make connections.”
Now as a new social worker, Griffin is working on getting his license so that he can solidify ways to offer mentorship, counseling, and other mental health services at the BGCEA to support teens coming to the facility. “I promised myself that I would be that same positive role model and mentor for someone else. I want to give back to the place that has done so much for me and give this next generation of kids who come through the club a wonderful experience.”
In the final year of his MSW program, Griffin decided to participate in a youth mentoring program through Compeer*, which is a non-clinical agency in Buffalo that promotes mental wellness through friendship. There are several volunteer opportunities available at Compeer and Griffin selected the one-to-one friendship model.
“I decided to participate in the late fall of 2020 and was matched with Noah in January. We meet every Tuesday in the evening to catch up on the week and play video games. I found that he really just likes having another trusted adult to talk to and hang out with. We have a really good time playing games like Fortnite or watching those solve-the-mystery videos for kids on YouTube.”
Compeer requires a one-year commitment and at the end of the year, both participants are asked if they want to continue the program together. “My experience has been truly special and I am happy to continue building my relationship with Noah and be a part of his life. I am hoping to stay involved with Compeer even if Noah decides he would rather not continue. I would happily take on another mentee as this has been an extremely rewarding experience.”
Griffin strongly encourages his peers and co-workers to consider volunteering with Compeer. “It benefits everyone who joins and working with him is a nice contrast to my daily job. I am glad to become a friend to someone who needs that extra line of support.”
*For the School of Social Work Field Department, the COVID-19 pandemic forced a rethinking of the traditional field placement model (one student at one agency). We began to pursue field experiences where students, as part of their existing field placement, complete some supplemental field hours working on projects or initiatives at other agencies. This allows the student to have a more well-rounded experience, eases the teaching burden of our host field agencies, and allows our students to meet pressing community needs, social isolation, for one.