Traditionally, a social worker's job is to respond to the social traumas their clients bring to them. This approach band-aids wounds that never seem to heal rather than addressing the underlying causes of the injury. Ten years ago, this was the work of the program Wendy Shaia stepped in to lead when the founding director of SWCOS retired after 18 years. SWCOS, sponsored by the University of MD School of Social Work, engages social work students, faculty, and staff in programs that serve Baltimore communities. Over the years, SWCOS has evolved to view clients as fully capable equals and nurtured relationships where all parties engage in mutual learning. It encourages people typically thought of as recipients to become self-advocates and mobilize for change in the systems that impact their lives.
Like any fundamental transformation, this work began with shifts in internal thought processes. The organization set out to incorporate concepts around anti-oppression, anti-racism, and restorative justice into its culture and practices. As awareness grew in the organization, Pulse Forward supported SWCOS in various ways.An example of how this awareness grew happened in a session on values at one of the Board/Staff retreats Pulse Forward facilitated over the years. As the group narrowed down the values they felt most aligned with liberatory practices, a staff person suggested they be used as a rubric for making all decisions that impact the organization's direction. Based on this insight, we reorganized the next couple of hours around how staff might live their values and what they mean in daily operations, such as hiring, structuring meetings, and including staff voice. It's common for an organization to want to embody its values beyond words on its website, but rare to see it in practice.
The Positive Schools Center (PSC) is a SWCOS program that trains and coaches adults to cultivate school environments where students flourish. PSC's challenge was that its audiences differed from its hosting organizations so it would be best served with a unique brand and website. We guided staff through a process of choosing a brand direction. The logo conveys the radiant energy the team emits through their work. We created a website that centers inspirational stories of school transformation and invites visitors to use their framework.
The SWCOS family doubled in size in 2022 with the addition of Promise Heights, another UMD School of Social Work community-facing program focused on success for youth from cradle-to-career. The ongoing work of sorting out roles and combining departments was tough. Yet, building trust between staff and merging cultures was grounded in the framework of SWCOS' philosophies. This led to the realization that these two organizations were becoming one new entity and deserved a new name and a fresh look. Pulse Forward worked with the team in an inclusive, all-staff process to take suggestions for a new name for SWCOS. We created a new logo and color palette that reflected the connectedness and textures embedded in their shared identity. This new identity will be reflected in the messaging and visuals on the new website we designed for The Center for Restorative Change.
The inner attention SWCOS gives to building trusted, value-centered relationships flows out into their community relationships. The organization isn't afraid to say what it stands for because of the work staff continually do to gain clarity. As a result, we have witnessed this organization become bolder and braver, precisely what is needed in the fight for social justice.
"Working with Pulse Forward always stretches my thinking. The questions they ask often push me beyond my comfort zone, but I have learned to pay close attention to these questions, as they often begin to pick at the edges of the places in our work that need to evolve. Sometimes at the end of the questions comes a better understanding for my staff and me about how the individuals, families, and communities with whom we work experience us. We might never have gotten to that realization without those difficult questions."
– Wendy Shaia, Executive Director