Helping people who need help the most can sometimes be challenging, but a recent quartet of visitors to Ozarks showed the task as worthwhile despite its difficulties.
Ozarks alumni Lee Goble (’10), Erica Eneks (’08), Samantha Whitten Mendez (’08), and Katy Crane (’05) returned to campus for the annual Inter-ACT panel.
Each year during Alumni Weekend, U of O hosts the Inter-ACT panel (ACT stands for "Alumni Career Talks") and each year the panelists come from a different major or field. This year’s 7th annual Inter-Act panel brought four Sociology and Psychology alumni to the table to discuss their own career successes and challenges in a frank and illuminating discussion.
The four panelists were Lee Goble (’10), Erica Eneks (’08), Samantha Whitten Mendez (’08), and Katy Crane (’05). All four graduates are involved in some form of social work or counseling situations.
"What was the most important thing I learned at Ozarks to help me deal with the real world?" Katy Crane is a licensed psychological examiner and is currently working for Vista Health in Barling, Arkansas, as a mental health counselor for Paris School. "I’d say it was professionalism and tolerance. When you’re in college you learn from books how things are, but then you have to get out there and find out how things really are. I thought once I had my professional degrees I was going to be an expert, but in fact the surprise is that you spend all that time getting your education, then go out and discover you have to learn how to actually do your job."
Lee Goble is a youth director and is working for the Salvation Army in Dallas, Texas, as an activity coordinator, and is currently seeking certification to become an activity director for a nursing home. "My sociology degree itself has been an enormous help when I’m interacting with youth at the Salvation Army where I work," he said. "Dealing with struggling individuals in that situation can be challenging, and having that sociological background helps me understand why people act in different ways and helps me overall in my youth ministry."
Samantha Whitten Mendez (’08), who currently works as the Victim/Witness Coordinator for the 5th Judicial Prosecuting Attorney’s Office in Pope County, Arkansas, said the most important thing she learned in school was how to balance. "When I was in school I had on-campus jobs, I was a single mom, and I went to classes, and that’s the way the real world works," she said. "That was good practice for having a job where there’s 50 things going on and you have this long list of things that have to be done right now. I think it was helpful to have that sort of situation early on, to prepare me for the job I now do."
Erica Eneks (’08), who graduated Ozarks with a B.S. and earned majors in Sociology and Environmental Studies and is currently working for the Department of Health and Human Services in Crawford County as a family service worker, disagreed. "I don’t think there’s anything in college that prepared me for what I encountered when I started working, and I don’t think it can," she said. "Unfortunately sometimes you are confronted with people who often don’t want to help themselves, and that’s frustrating. Kids are sent to you for treatment, but because they’re court ordered, they don’t necessarily want to be there. The concept of helping yourself, having goals, having plans is not something that really occurs to them, so for me it’s an educational process that works sometimes, sometimes not. I cope with that by reminding myself that at least I’m doing something, I’m making an effort to help people. It doesn’t happen every day, but when you have kids in a bad situation and you can help, or parents you’re working with who finally do begin to get themselves on track, those moments make it all worthwhile. But it’s hard."
All four panelists are engaged in their work despite its many challenges. "I try to remind myself that all people do have individual right," says Goble. "You can encourage them, but ultimately it is their responsibility. One thing that helps me is when you finally get through to a child, or help senior citizens enjoy themselves. Incidentally, you don’t want to get in the way of senior citizens and their bingo! So for me I’d say I have to remind myself how neat it is to see the joy of the people."
Crane agreed. "I guess I expected my patients to have those ‘A-ha!’ moments in my office like you see on TV, but that isn’t how it works," she said. "So much of the help or benefit patients receive is the next day when they’re in the middle of a situation and go ‘Oh yeah, maybe that’s what she was getting at’. So it’s baby steps, and not always something you see. You can’t fix people. They have to fix themselves. And the goals you think they should have aren’t automatically the goals they need to have. But you can help."
Eneks mentioned her own motivation. "I have always been fascinated by how people work. We’re all different but all exactly the same. We’re followers despite our individuality. I enjoy digging into that and finding out why we do what we do. The parents of the kids I help often need just as much help as the kids do. The huge majority have been raised with parents who have issues of their own enough to negatively impact how their kids view and react to the world. A lot of the work I do when I can is with the parents, and it’s amazing to me how some of those kids will flourish who’ve been taken out of those environments and put into stable homes."
Dr. Jesse Weiss, who worked with the panelists during their time as students at U of O, ended the discussion with some thoughts of his own: "I wanted to say I’m incredibly proud of you four as representatives of the university. I think your choice in vocation bodes well for your generation and the quest of figuring out it’s not about ourselves, it’s about what we can do for others. I had you guys in class and oversaw a lot of your coursework, and I’m incredibly proud you were Sociology graduates. I reference you a lot of as examples of what to do to my current students. Your careers give you difficult tasks, but it’s my firm belief that even if you only make one dent one time, that changes the overall whole, and I think you guys are doing that, so good for you."