Meet Carole Johnson. She was born, raised and currently lives in Panama City, Florida but has lived in Pensacola, Tallahassee, Montgomery and even California. When she was in high school the summer of 1973, she went on a mission trip with her church to the mountains of Tennessee. Their task was to work on houses that were owned by the mine and were in very poor condition. Her job was to insulate one room in each house so that in the winter the family would have a warm place to gather. The conditions these people lived under were so sad. They were paid just enough to get by but not to get out of where they were. Most of the children would drop out of school as soon as they were old enough and they would work in the mines as well. “I decided that I wanted to do something to help people find ways to improve their lives and especially the lives of the children. After some research I decided that a degree in social work would allow me to be able to help families and children.”
Carole received her bachelor’s degree from Huntingdon College in Montgomery, Alabama and her Master’s degree from Florida State University in Tallahassee. Her first job was to run the Teen Pregnancy Program in Santa Rosa County. She did her last internship in this program with Children’s Home Society while working on her Master’s degree. Toward the end of the internship, she was offered the job. She finished her degree by taking classes at University of West Florida and driving to Tallahassee after work every Thursday to attend classes on Friday. It was a long semester but well worth all the effort. Carole had long periods of time where she was a homemaker and she also worked out of the social work field but she has been in the social work industry 16 years. Carole found her passion for working with teens and young adults when she was hired for the position in independent living in 2012. Since that time she has worked as the Independent Living Specialist for Bay and Gulf Counties.
Carole works for NWF Health as an Independent Living Specialist. She describes her work as “serving as the mom for a bunch of 18 to 23 year old adults. I teach life skills, help them find a place to live, help them apply for benefits, college, scholarships and anything else they are eligible for. I help them enroll in school or find a job, and make sure they are getting the medical and dental care they need- I sometimes provide transportation to these appointments!” Now that she is NWF Health has taken over Independent Living for Circuits 2 and 14 her nickname is Team Mom. Carole also does a lot of listening when they need to vent or just need a sounding board to talk through something. She says they usually ‘figure it out’ on their own during the conversation. “I’m on call 24/7 for emergencies since many of them do not have anyone else to call or don’t trust anyone else enough yet. Since NWF Health took over the Independent living program I am no longer responsible for the 16 to 17.5 year olds. This has given me more time to work with the 17.5 year olds to develop a plan for what they will do when they turn 18 and for the 18 to 23 year olds. I am also working to help these teens and young adults identify permanent positive adults in their lives who they can call on in times of need. Most of the young adults I work with have trust issues so it is difficult for them to build these relationships, however I am trying to help them see that we all need people we can call on in times of need and that this will help them be successful.
According to Carole, the number one skill needed for her job is patience, lots of patience. She adds that good listening skills are also a must and lastly, the ability to not take anything the kids say personally. You need to be able to set limits and expectations and stick to what you say. It’s also important to answer the phone when the kids or their parents call or call them back as soon as possible if you miss a call. This helps them to know that you will be there for them. She tries to keep a positive attitude and reminds herself that all of her kids have the potential to be successful, some just need more help than others. Carol believes everyone is capable of change. One of the parents she worked with early in her career in dependency said to her that “I decided to change and get off the drugs because you treated me like I was a real person and I mattered not just like some drug addict. You cared about me and it made me want to do better.” How we treat our clients matters and it can be the difference between their success or failure.
When Carole isn’t working, she spends time with family on Discord and Skype. She has mastered an online video game where she can interact with her children and one of her grandchildren in the game. She also loves to work in her yard and garden when it’s not freezing outside!
Carole’s advice to any new social worker is that “in the area of dependency case management, you need to know that our parents have suffered trauma in their lives as well. If you care about them as a person they will feel that and that will give them the motivation they need to change. This will not happen overnight and they will struggle, but if they feel that you believe in them and really want to help them, the changes will come. Social work is not just a job, it is so much more and we can change the world, one person at a time, for good or for bad, depending on how we treat the people we are serving.”