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An unexpected and very happy reunion reminds a social worker why she loves what she does

The woman was a young mother without any supports. What were the odds she'd get past her challenges?

Kellie Flanagan, MSW
Kellie Flanagan, MSWRead moreKellie Flanagan

When I was in graduate school getting my master’s degree in social work, my first-year internship was in the family-preservation program of a child-welfare agency. This was a prevention initiative that provided intense intervention to families who were in danger of having their children placed in foster care. The agency provided up to 20 hours of intervention activities each week, with the goal of strengthening parenting skills and reducing risk in the family of abuse or neglect.

The first family I worked with consisted of a 19-year-old mother and her 2-year-old son who were very much on their own in the world. They lived on the first floor of a duplex owned by the woman’s dad, an arrangement that appeared to be her only connection to him, and she had almost no relationship with her mother or siblings. Her relationship with her son’s father, who was in prison, was tenuous at best. So overall, her support system was very limited. She relied primarily on friends, who appeared to have varying problems of their own.

During the course of the academic year in which I worked with this young woman, our goals were to improve her parenting skills and establish her financial security, as she was unemployed and relying on government benefits such as cash assistance, food stamps, and WIC benefits. She had finished high school, which was a plus; however, she had never given much thought to finding a job. Her son was born just as she was finishing high school, and she had been focusing her energy on raising him. I helped her think more about her future, to ensure that she and her little boy would have more independence and stability. By the end of our time together, she found a job, which helped reduce financial stresses she faced.

After working with this young woman, I would periodically wonder what had happened to her and her little boy. I had really enjoyed her company and found her to be funny, intelligent, and full of energy. Having a child in her teens had presented a big challenge, but I believed she had it within her to get past it, with focus and hard work.

Fast forward almost 15 years, when I was in a restaurant with my mother. As our waitress walked to our table, something about her seemed familiar. After ordering my meal, I realized that she was the same young woman I’d worked with over a decade ago! I didn’t want to say anything to her in front of my mother, so I decided to approach her when I took a bathroom break.

I introduced myself and referenced my work with her several years back. She remembered me well, she was glad to see me again and thanked me for my help. She told me that I had come into her life at a very difficult time and she appreciated the support I had provided. She was happy to report that her son was now an honors student in high school and planned to go to college, and she had married a man with whom she was very happy and felt secure.

I walked away from our conversation feeling incredibly happy for her. I always thought I had played a minor role in her life but was touched to realize it had been more significant than that: I had helped her when she really needed it. I am very grateful that I had the chance to reconnect with her so many years after our work together and to witness firsthand what I knew all along was possible — that she would find success in life.

The author is a staff social worker at Tandigm Health in West Conshohocken. Do you have an inspirational, compelling story about an on-the-job moment or incident that changed you — and can you tell it in 700 words or less? Send it to