5 URBAN SOCIAL WORK
Kent Morgan earned his degree in sociology in the mid–1980's and began pursuing his dream of Christian ministry in the inner city. This commitment was a combination of his college education and his experiences in various forms of community service. While a student Kent did social service internships and also did volunteer work within the community. For example, one of Kent's internships focused on the development of positive peer leadership among youth. Skills for developing such leadership were taught during a weekend camp. Kent began as a student observer/participant and in subsequent camps became a group leader, implementing the leadership program. At the same time Kent volunteered within the community as a soccer coach. "I didn't really know anything about soccer. I played basketball. But the kids needed a soccer coach. Besides, I checked a book out on the game and asked some of my college friends who played to help me out. We didn't win a lot of games, but we had fun. What I got out of it was a clearer sense of how I could have an impact on the lives of others."
One of the organizations with which Kent came into contact while in college was the Salvation Army. The summer after graduation Kent pursued his interest in kids by working as a unit director at a Salvation Army camp. The camp was designed for older, inner city boys, and gave them a chance to escape their environment for a while. At this camp, according to Kent, "I began to see more clearly how sociological concepts like environment and social structure could help me better understand these kids. I also saw how I could use these concepts to influence young lives. So I began to dig into the backgrounds of my kids, and I even visited some of them in their homes some months later. I was really interested in these boys, and they needed hope for the future. The camp experience was great, but it was only short term. I knew I wanted to do something for them in their home environment."
Kent decided to follow his developing interest in inner city youth by seeking permanent employment with the Salvation Army. He applied and was offered a job as a community center social worker with a case load of 150 families. In this job Kent was responsible for a wide range of family services, with a special focus on children and youth. The array of services included, but was not limited to individual counseling, crisis intervention, energy service to homes, finding shelter, serving a liaison with police, etc. According to Kent, "You get to be quite close to these people. You can see the product of your efforts. There was much that was frustrating, but also much more that was rewarding."
As Kent's work at the community center progressed he took on the position of community services director. This position broadened Kent's perspective. In his four years at the center Kent was responsible for proposing, developing, and implementing 18 new programs. These programs, according to Kent, were "based on a wholistic approach to problem solving. My background in sociology really provided a valuable framework for approaching my job. Specifically, this framework forced me to look into the larger community for patterns which were contributing to the problems we saw arising in individual cases. We had hunches, but we also needed data so we could reasonably respond. Therefore, any program development had to include research."
One example of how Kent applied his perspective was development of the Young Conquerors program. A significant and obvious problem in his part of the city was gang activity and delinquency. What was not so obvious was how people perceived the problem and what should be done about it. Through extensive interviews with people from the local community, including gang members and potential gang members, Kent determined that gang members were the primary role models for children. There were no real alternatives. Further, and interestingly, role models from the gangs were not necessarily preferred by current or potential members. The task was to create a class of new, alternative role models/leaders among the youth. This was done by involving youth and community leaders alike in structures which promoted and rewarded appropriate behavior. Activities like organized sports and volunteer services were actively promoted. When certain young people were successful in these endeavors then it became their responsibility to reproduce their success through the lives of others. According to Kent, "Being a role model/leader is more than simply being someone others admire. It carries with it the responsibility for advancing the lives of others."
After four years Kent decided to go into full time Salvation Army ministry and therefore went back to school, this time seminary. His desire was to be of more help to people spiritually. Yet, as Kent notes, "I recognized that in order to help people spiritually I needed to better my understanding of people socially." So, in addition to his masters level seminary degree in theology Kent also pursued a Ph.D. in counseling and became licensed as a social worker in two states. According to Kent, "My life is dedicated to helping people help themselves, so my commitment must be to understanding people as thoroughly as possible."
After His seminary studies were completed Kent was commissioned as a Salvation Army Officer and took on the dual position of chief administrator and head pastor in, what has turned out to be, a most challenging community. "This is an intimidating place," says Kent. "There are high rates of drug abuse, gang activity, teenage pregnancy, child and elder abuse, etc. What's worse, people don't seem to have any idea what to do about it. It's a big part of my job to give definition to those problems, seek and develop solutions, and engage the community in implementation." To this end Kent has relied heavily upon his research skills. He has conducted at least three demographic studies to get a clear picture of the community he is serving. He has also conducted needs assessments, to determine where to act and in what priority. He is engaged in strategic planning so that both his organization and the community know and understand the future towards which they are heading. And, he had begun to use all this research to access outside resources. On two occasions he has successfully applied for grants which have established needed programs.
For example, within the last year he was awarded $56,000 for a growth enrichment initiative. For young people ages 14–18, this program provides valuable learning experiences in three areas; academic, life–skills/employment, and recreation/leisure. For two years these young people are actually students in courses designed to help them better organize and advance their lives. Successful completion of the curriculum also results in college credit through the local community college district. "We are just getting ready to graduate our first class!" says a rightfully proud Kent. "Had I not been able to organize the data and write coherently then this program would not be here, and we would have no graduates today."
Understanding his community sociologically is an asset Kent wonders how people in his position can do without. But his skills are also directed organizationally. He oversees as staff of ten which he motivates to work aggressively. He must also continually network with the rest of the community. He must build relational bridges, so his management and communication skills are always being tested. According to Kent, "You can't rest in this job for two reasons. One, as a representative of the Salvation Army I am always `on stage'. People have certain expectations of me and I must live up to them, or change them, if I am to have any legitimacy. Two, the environment is always in flux. Change is always a part of what we must address. As soon as you deal with one problem another emerges. But, my wholistic point of view helps me to anticipate change."
Financially Kent wants it known that he is "comfortable." He is not in the ministry to make money, but to serve others. As an entry level social worker he made $17,000+ ten years ago. Now, with a package that includes a home and a car, Kent earns $55,000 – $60,000 annually. "I'm able to do the work I feel called to do, and provide for my family as well. I am blessed."
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