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A Final Reflection from Olivia Saleh

A Final Reflection from Olivia Saleh

Our wonderful social work intern from NYU, Olivia Saleh, wrote the following final reflection about her experience and journey with Play At The Core. It was an honor and a joy to have her be a part of our team and we cannot wait to see her carve out her social work path and continue to work in partnership with communities.

Before beginning my time with Play At The Core, I was ruminating on my deep fears and insecurities about being a social work student, intern, and soon-to-be professional social worker. There was an amalgamation of factors that gave my inner critic the words it needed to cut into my confidence. It would say things like: “You haven’t been a student in 2 years, you have no idea what you’re doing”, or “You’re not smart enough”, or “Your virtual education will not prepare you enough for what you want to be” — an endless slew of “caution” and “danger ahead” and “turn back now” advisories trying to tether me to latency.

            At the start of my time as an intern with PATC, these fears manifested through sincere apologies for taking up too much or too little space in meetings, refraining from asking questions to clarify new ideas, and refusing to allow for silence because I felt my silence translated to my ignorance. I wanted to do everything right before I even knew what I had to do. That is when the members of the PATC team began to debunk each lie I had been telling myself.

            In a world where the right answers are revered as the path to understanding and connection, PATC reveres and practices asking the right questions. This is when I began to feel a cosmic shift in myself, one that felt, for lack of a better word, uncomfortable. I was so consumed by the idea that I had to adapt who I was to be what was expected of me, that I didn’t know how to react when my PATC teammates asked what I expected from myself at PATC and from my social work program. I was always met with questions that urged me to focus on becoming, not being, reminding me that the process of developing who I am as a social worker, and as a person, is infinite.

            I began to realize that any social worker who remains stagnant, who approaches their role as one of intervention, sameness, expertise, not one of collaboration, change, authenticity, is wielding power over and not power with. Brené Brown suggests that transformative leaders can share power with people and inspire them to unlock the power within themselves. Leaders who work from a position of sharing power with others are more concerned about getting it right than being right.

One of PATC’s most aspirational and intentional core values is shifting power both internally and externally, embodying their continual commitment to anti-oppressive practice.

There are general pillars to anti-oppressive practice that were imparted to me during NYU’s new social work student orientation. Some of these include: understanding how your social location impacts client interactions, applying theories and values that promote egalitarianism, and using practice behaviors that promote equity and empowerment for clients and partners.

            I have seen this in action. Every internal meeting I had with a member of the PATC team proved to be a microcosm of the collaborations they take on with external partner organizations. They asked me how I wanted to use our time together. They asked me what I was coming in with, whether it be what was on my heart or in my mind about the work I had been doing the week before. They asked me to explore frameworks that exist in the ether that should be implemented to create anti-racist social and emotional learning and trauma-informed care practices. They reminded me of my agency. The voice that rung in my ears telling me what an imposter I was grew quieter and quieter because PATC gave me space for my voice to grow louder. I now want to use that voice to say thank you to my PATC family.

To Brandon: Thank you for your unending dedication to making connections. You have taught me how to communicate effectively and succinctly and how to approach each task with enthusiasm and hard work. I’m so lucky to have seen you in action and I can’t wait to hear about the incredible work that you continue to do within every team that is fortunate enough to have you        

To Hewetté: Thank you for your innovation and support. Witnessing firsthand how you encourage your colleagues and partners to consider new perspectives showcases your diligence and expertise at bringing in precisely what is needed to enact change in different spaces. I will never forget the day you asked me how I wanted to see myself grow and how PATC can best help me in the process of that growth. Up until that point, I hadn’t thought about what I wanted for myself and you changed that. Thank you for giving me the space to allow myself to be a part of the conversation. I am forever grateful

To Shira: Thank you for allowing me to be your thought partner. It is a privilege to be given a window into how you process what exists around and within you because you do it so honestly and attentively. Describing something as contagious during a pandemic feels inopportune but there is no other way to exemplify your energy – you share it so willingly and generously and I thank you from the bottom of my heart for allowing me to experience it each week.

To Sam: Thank you for your authenticity and openness. It creates such palpable trust and kinship within the team and I feel so lucky to have felt it. Thank you for the knowledge you imparted upon me and for being so receptive to suggestions and input – you helped to create a genuine space of collaboration and teamwork.

            To Jared: Thank you for being the most determined and inviting supervisor I could have ever imagined. I’ve never met anyone who is more intentional about their purpose and more dedicated to maintaining alignment with the values that function as the tenets of PATC. You are able to recognize the strengths in everyone that you work with and leverage them to inspire change. There were moments throughout my time at PATC where I felt that I could only see my deficits but, somehow, you transformed them into strengths. Where I saw inexperience, you saw potential. Where I saw fear, you saw determination. Where I saw obstacles, you saw assets. Your leadership will forever be my most aspirational goal and I thank you from the bottom of my heart for all that you have taught me.