Celebrating World Social Work Day

We interviewed members of the BBBST team about their day-to-day as a social worker. Meet Cassandra Armstrong , Mentoring Program Specialist – Community Based, Sourav Manna, BSW, our Intake Specialist, and Tara Hartley , Manager of Group Programs.

What called you to the field of social work?

Cassandra: From a young age, I knew I wanted to enter a helping profession. I was drawn to social work because social work, unlike other helping professions, connects individual hardships with social inequalities. There is a dual responsibility within the field of social work to provide direct support and to advocate for a more just world. My own values align with social work’s commitment to a strengths-based, anti-oppressive, social-justice oriented practice. Social work is unique in that it is a field that places the individual as the expert of their own lives and believes in harnessing the strengths and power that exists within each individual to help them reach their full potential!

Sourav: I always had a sense of wanting to do more for others who may not have a voice for themselves or even their families. Coming from a family where I found myself having to grow up “quicker”, I always felt the need to make sure that other children didn’t feel that way. Social work came out of nowhere for me. Growing up, you hear a lot about becoming a doctor or a lawyer, especially in my family and constantly hearing about it, really made me not want to do it more. When I found what social work was, I was instantly hooked. I always wanted to serve the community I came from and this field gave me just that.

Tara: It’s challenging for me to pinpoint one specific moment in my life that drew me to social work. Throughout high school, I changed my “dream job” many different times – I wanted to be a radio DJ, a paralegal, a teacher, you name it, I probably thought about doing it. It wasn’t until my friend’s mom started talking about her job as a Social Worker that I thought about it more and more. At that point, one of my older sisters began her first year studying Social Work and together we had many discussions about what social work meant to us, why we were interested in studying it, and what we could learn. At the core of it all, social work is about supporting people. I was honored and lucky to have such a supportive network growing up, I knew I wanted to be able to provide that feeling to others. When I first started my social work degree, I knew one thing for certain – I did not want to work with children. That was until I did my placement at BBBST. By week 2 of my placement I was drawn to the work, the impact of the programs on Toronto’s youth, and set a goal for myself to get hired full-time by the end of my placement. Fast forward 8 months later, I graduated University with my Bachelors of Social Work and a full-time job at BBBST.

What does a typical day in your role look like?

Cassandra: Every day looks a little different which is my favourite part! As a Match Support Coordinator in our Community Based 1:1 program, I have a caseload of matches that I check in with regularly to assess for safety, provide support, and hear about all the wonderful things the matches have accomplished together! Depending on the day, I will have a variety of different appointments scheduled such as phone calls with parents/guardians and mentors to check in and help them navigate difficult situations/conversations. I also hold meetings with parents/guardians, mentors, and mentees in person at our office or in the community to complete annual review check-in appointments and to introduce new matches!

Sourav: Usually it’s a lot of listening and understanding where someone or a group of people (families mainly) are coming from. The role also comes with a lot of paperwork and following up with people but its also a role that allows you to be the first contact for our agency, which for me is very exciting. Social work or my role in general is never repetitive, you always hear new stories and meet new people, which is always rewarding, especially if you want to create impact on a broad scale.

Tara: The thing I love most about my job is that each day is different. In my role I manage the team that coordinates and facilitates our Group-Based programming. This includes our !gnite Empowerment Programs and our Post-Secondary Readiness (Pumped for Post-Sec) Program. In addition to this, I also facilitate one of our PFPS sites. A typical day may look like visiting schools to check-in on programs and volunteers, touching base with our school liaisons, meeting with team members at BBBST, then facilitating a PFPS program. This includes prepping for the session, creating materials and activities, taking attendance, ensuring the Mentees and Mentors arrive on time and participate in the session activities. Each day is different and I love that I get to interact with Mentors and Mentees while also being able to support our different group programs here at BBBST!

What’s your favourite memory working with the Bigs and Littles at BBBST?

Cassandra: My favourite memory working with the Bigs and Littles at BBBST is the Winter Party I had the chance to attend this past December. It was amazing to see all of our Bigs and Littles interacting and having fun. In my role, I don’t get the chance to see our Bigs and Littles together that often, so any chance to see mentorship in action is my favourite!

Sourav: A simple thank you. This is my second time working with BBBST and my first time working here, a family thanked me because their son had a great mentor and that mentor “changed his life”. The mom was in tears and shared that she was struggling a lot with raising a young boy and that BBBST helped her during her tough times. I think anytime where a family, or even a volunteer thanks us for the work we do, it makes our efforts worth it.

Tara: When I first started at BBBST, I began in our In-School Mentoring (ISM) team. At that time, I was a mighty team of 1 and was overseeing all of the ISM Matches across the city. One of my favourite memories was my first visit with a long-standing ISM match. At the time I began they had been matched for about 3 years. They had a great connection, the Little loved his Big and they did such creative activities during their time together. This is one of my favourite memories because it was my first time seeing the impact first-hand that the programs have on Bigs and Littles and being able to witness the genuine relationship between a Match. It was such a joy to be able to be a fly on the wall during their meetings and see the friendship they have with one another. The match went on to be matched for a total of 6 years until the Little graduated Grade 8 during the pandemic.

What piece of advice would you give yourself if you entered the social work field today?

Cassandra: A piece of advice I would give myself if I entered the social work field today is that social work is so broad, which at times may seem daunting, but it’s also very exciting! Remember to follow your passion and don’t stress out so much about the end goal – enjoy the journey! It’s okay to not have all the answers (you never will). Take everything day by day and lean on the people around you for support!

Sourav: As mentioned, social work came out of nowhere for me. It was almost a last-minute decision. I think I would tell myself to take my time and not rush into the field. The field of social work is vast and will always be a need for society. If anything, taking my time to learn about myself and what I would like to achieve in the field would be something to think about if I were to do it all again.

Tara: Be open to anything! I think when I began my social work degree I thought I didn’t want to work with children so I wrote off any future opportunities that involved working with a younger demographic. But social work is such a broad field that if I had an open mind I could have discovered other opportunities so much sooner!

What’s the most rewarding part of your work with BBBST?

Cassandra: The most rewarding part of my work with BBBST is witnessing the development and flourishment of mentoring relationships. It is a privilege to support a match from their first introduction and to watch their relationship grow and strengthen over time. It warms my heart to hear stories of how mentors have supported their mentees and the reciprocal learning that takes place within a mentoring relationship!

Sourav: The people you meet and work with. The staff at BBBST are a joy to work with, people who are experts in the field, caring, compassionate, and like a family. The families and volunteers you meet and work with always provide a fun experience and always remind you of why you do the work.

Tara: I couldn’t possibly choose just one. The easiest one to say is seeing the relationships between Mentors and Mentees grow, expand, and develop throughout their years matched. In group programs, it’s seeing Mentees join the program as quiet, shy, nervous students in September and watching them become more comfortable and confident throughout the program year. The whole team at BBBST is passionate about our vision and mission that it makes for a really rewarding workplace. But I would say the #1 most rewarding thing for me, is when a previous high school mentee moves on to attend post-secondary school where we have a Pumped for Post-Sec site and wants to be a Mentor. Seeing the program come full circle and knowing the program had such a positive impact that a Mentee now wants to be a Mentor to other high school students is such a rewarding feeling. I genuinely love working at BBBST, it’s so easy to find the job rewarding.