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Annette Hartery

Q&A with social work alumna about 'blessed' 40-year career

Campus and Community | Alumni Spotlight

By Lisa Pendergast

When Annette Hartery, BSW’76, came to Memorial University, she found not only her calling, but also the confidence to never stop learning and become a leader in her field.

When Ms. Hartery came to the St. John’s campus after growing up in Corner Brook, it was her first time living away from home. At first she felt like “a fish out of water,” but the small class sizes and hands-on work experience in the School of Social Work confirmed that she had made the right choice.

Ms. Hartery worked in areas such as inpatient psychiatry, family therapy and children’s mental health before she moved to the Peel District School Board in Ontario, where she stayed for the remainder of her career. While working with the school board, Ms. Hartery was the first in the social work department to sit on the community committee of LGBTQ youth, institute the in-school mentoring program, train in ASIST-Applied Suicide Intervention Skills and become a SAFE TALK trainer.

Ms. Hartery reminisces about her time at Memorial, the highlights of her career and what she would say to students considering a bachelor of social work.

LP: Why did you first decide to come to Memorial University, and specifically, the School of Social Work?

AH: I’m from Corner Brook and I went to university right after high school. It’s an interesting story how I got into social work. Regina High School, the boys’ high school, had a first-year university program. So I did that first year in Corner Brook.

While there I met a Christian brother, Brother Goodland, who was teaching. I had not given a lot of thought to what I was going to do in university, I just knew I was going. My sister was a nurse at one point in her life, so I thought I would go into nursing, but quickly realized I hadn’t taken any of the sciences in high school! So that was off the table.

Brother Goodland was the one who suggested social work. So, I went to Memorial for my second year and applied to the bachelor of social work program. I graduated in 1976 after having a fantastic experience.

LP: What did you enjoy most about being a student at Memorial?

AH: Once I was in the social work program, they had very small classes. The first couple of years you have those big amphitheater classes like psychology and sociology and I felt very much like a fish out of water.

But in third year, when I really got into social work, I came to know most of the people in my class because we were all in the same building. We were off to the far end of campus and it was a nice, comfortable feeling.

LP: What was your first job in social work?

AH: In social work, we had to do practicums, a work experience program. My first practicum was at St. Clare’s Mercy Hospital on the inpatient psychiatry ward. It was a great experience and I had a wonderful field supervisor while I was there.

I think I was really blessed to work in a hospital setting because when graduation came around, the chief of social work from Western Memorial Hospital came out to St. John’s and was interviewing people to see if they wanted to work in the hospital.

It was like a gift for me, being able to go back home. I think having a little bit of experience working in a hospital got me in the door. I worked at inpatient psychiatry at Western Memorial and after about two years I thought that there was still a lot that I did not know, so I applied to graduate school.

I went out west to the University of Manitoba. I got my master of social work degree and then I was able to come back. I worked a few more years at Western Memorial before heading off to Ontario.

LP: What are some of the highlights of your social work career?

AH: I have had a rewarding career in social work. I said at my retirement party that social work wasn’t just a job for me, it really was a career.

In my graduate program, I specialized in marital counselling and when I landed my first job in Ontario I was able to do a year-long extern program in family therapy. It was such a rewarding experience for me that laid the groundwork for most of the other jobs that I found here in Toronto.

So, primarily I’ve worked in the area of children’s mental health in a variety of settings, mostly counselling agencies, and then I was a supervisor, a program manager and did the administrative thing for a number of years. Then I moved into the school board, where I have just finished a long career with the Peel District School Board, as the school social worker.

“I think it’s related to equity and fairness and those are things that are not only personally, but also professionally, a part of who I am.”

It was a very busy job, so I felt fortunate that I had worked in the community for 13 or 14 years and had a lot of skills under my belt. I am the kind of person who is always looking for a challenge or for something different, so I was fortunate to be trained in many things. Two of which were ASIST-Applied Suicide Intervention Skills and SAFE TALK. Both are related to suicide intervention and prevention and that really was pretty dear to my heart, to be able to do that training for staff in the board.

I spent nine years as the union vice-president and I kind of walked into that thinking, ‘Hmm, I know nothing about this,’ but I became extremely passionate about it. I think it’s related to equity and fairness and those are things that are not only personally, but also professionally, a part of who I am.

“That confidence I found at Memorial allowed me to open myself up to continue to learn new things.”

I felt very honoured that I was bestowed an award through the union just before I left, but more importantly for me, was when we were looking for people to sit on our executive. I gave my rally speech with our social work department and half of the executive ended up being social workers. They would say to me that it was my speech that got them involved, so that was very rewarding for me.

I left my career at a point where I feel really good about the work that I have done over all of these years.

LP: How do you feel your time at Memorial influenced your career?

AH: The program that I did at Memorial really grounded me and rooted me in terms of what’s important in my career.

I just feel so fortunate to have had that experience. It was a five-year program and it left me feeling, at the time, very confident. Of course, you’re young, and at 21 you think you know everything and I came to realize that I still had a lot to learn.

But that was okay too, because that confidence I found at Memorial allowed me to open myself up to continue to learn new things.

LP: What advice would you give to a Memorial student who may be considering a career in social work?

AH: It is an extremely rewarding career with many opportunities in terms of job direction. You can try so many different areas before you decide to settle into one area or you can continue to move around.

Don’t be put off by people saying, ‘I don’t know how you can do that job, don’t you take it home?’ The reality is that you are professional — you learn to be a social worker. It’s a little bit like parenting and people assuming that you know what to do. You don’t.

You have to learn skills to deal with people, you have to learn how to see the big picture when it comes to your clients. So don’t be thrown off by that. Don’t think you don’t have an inherent ability for this – you learn these skills, so don’t be afraid.

The career itself – I feel like a poster child for it, because I’ve been so blessed! It has given me everything that I wanted in a career over the last 40 years.


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