Learning from horses and incarcerated people. Working alongside 2SLGBTQIA+ individuals. Competitive power lifting.
Learning from Indigenous communities. Providing community outreach.
Spring graduate Madison Pretty says she gained invaluable knowledge from these varied experiences just prior to and during her bachelor of social work degree program at Memorial.
Her first year in the School of Social Work was a challenge, says Ms. Pretty, who hails from of Portugal Cove-St. Philip’s.
A power lifter, she had to balance the demands of the intensive academic program, work and intensive weight training.
Her efforts paid off: Ms. Pretty won gold at the regional competition in 2019. She won gold again at the nationals in Winnipeg in March 2020, just prior to the pandemic lockdown.
“Lifting is incredibly important for my physical and mental well-being,” she said. “It requires focus and dedication, which has transferred over to how I approach my studies, especially during challenging times.”
One experience in particular stood out for Ms. Pretty: equine-assisted therapy for individuals who are incarcerated.
Besides other things, it taught her that there are different approaches to counselling.
Working with Spirit Horse N.L., a program that specializes in bringing horses and humans together for healing, Ms. Pretty participated in sessions with inmates at Her Majesty’s Penitentiary in St. John’s.
“They were told the horse is here to work and so are you. This is a chance to do things differently. The horse calms things and gives people a space to talk in the field.”
Ms. Pretty can remember exactly when she knew a career in social work was ahead of her.
It was during her time working as a youth leader at Camp Eclipse.
The camp is a leadership retreat for 2SLGBTQIA+ youth and their allies from across Newfoundland and Labrador.
Identifying as queer, Ms. Pretty says she would like to eventually work with 2SLGBTQ+ youth.
A guest in the community
During her degree program, Ms. Pretty participated in the School of Social Work’s initiative with the provincial Department of Children, Seniors and Social Development that offers practicums in remote and Indigenous communities in Labrador.
“Learning in the community, not from a textbook, was invaluable.”
She was one of the first to take a child protection placement for 12 weeks in the Innu community of Natuashish. It was important to be aware of social work’s history, especially in Indigenous communities, she learned.
”I recognized that I was a guest, a visitor in their community, and that some people might not want me there. I realized it was a privilege to work as a social worker in their community.”
She missed her family and her dog, but it was a “huge” learning experience, she says, and the school’s field education team was supportive.
“Learning in the community, not from a textbook, was invaluable,” said Ms. Pretty. “I’d love to go back to work there if they’d have me.”
Pandemic social work
Like her first year, Ms. Pretty says she found the past year’s remote learning delivery challenging.
COVID-19 highlighted social issues such as increasing rates of domestic violence, and that queer and trans students required to leave residence often returned to unsafe homes.
“It’s important to be aware of these crucial things and take this knowledge with us when we go out to practise as social workers.”
Ms. Pretty was working with Thrive for her second practicum when the lockdown came into effect this past February. She was part of the street reach team that offers outreach and drop-in services for vulnerable people aged 16-plus in the community.
“[COVID-19] necessitated trying to think of better ways of doing things.”
With the move to Level 5 in the province, however, many of the essential services their clients depended on had to be reduced. These challenges required critical thinking and finding creative ways to bridge the gap between participants’ needs and the systems that provide support, she says.
“COVID-19 taught me more than ever the need to think on your feet in social work. It necessitated trying to think of better ways of doing things.”
All of her experiences combined strengthened Ms. Pretty’s opinion that building relationships requires creativity and flexibility.
“Memorial’s bachelor of social work program gave me hands-on experience, theoretical background and the opportunity to build my professional skills. It’s a privilege to be educated and we have a responsibility to use our knowledge and skills to help folks live lives that are safe and happy.”