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15th Annual Social Work Teach-in: Covid Confessions

Co-authored by Emilia Intili and Courtney Gosse

The Social Work Society and School of Social Work hosted their 15th Annual Teach-in via Zoom on November 7, 2021. The event was co-sponsored by the Institute for Global Understanding. The teach-in’s theme was “Quarantine Confessions: How it took a global pandemic to shed light on some of the most pressing societal issues in the United States.” The teach-in was not limited to Social Work students; it was open to anyone interested and available to attend, which resulted in a remarkably successful turnout of local and national students and community members. The virtual conference’s keynote speaker, Senator Vin Gopal, discussed the state of affairs and provided insights on what he has been working on from a policy perspective around COVID-19 and the continued struggles New Jersey faces. The teach-in also consisted of panel discussions on the economic, health, and educational aspects of COVID-19, which were hosted by members of the Social Work Society’s Executive Board.

The Economic Panel consisted of Christina Tello from Affordable Housing Alliance (Neptune, NJ), Paola Marin from Community Affairs & Resources Center (Asbury Park, NJ), and Debbie Keszler from Reformation Food Pantry (West Long Branch, NJ). The moderators of this panel where Olivia Monahan (Vice President) and Jamie Terrone (Co-President). Tello informed participants about the increased risk of homelessness among Americans, amidst COVID-19, due to the increased rate of unemployment. Because of this, Tello called for increased access to affordable housing to reduce homelessness throughout the county. Marin discussed the variety of services that CARC provides for the local community, focusing on the importance of the multilingual and multicultural aspects. Due to the increased immigrant and refugee populations within the community, CARC discussed the issues surrounding the lack of access to these services. Also, due to the pandemic, Kreszler noted that community organizations have encountered more issues as a result of the significant loss of volunteers, which has impacted organizations’ abilities to serve their communities. Overall, this discussion allowed students to become aware of the community resources that are available and the contacts that were able to be made throughout this event.

The Health Panel consisted of Dr. Rose Knapp from Family Urgent Care (Oakhurst, NJ); John Koufos, the National Director of Reentry Initiatives at Right on Crime and the Executive Director of Safe Streets & Second Chances; and Janet Lee from 180 Turning Lives Around. This panel was moderated by Brianna Rudolph (Treasurer) and Brittany Macaluso (Co-President). Regardless of the setting, whether a hospital, prison, or unsafe environment, the speakers stressed the importance of coming together during these times to support and protect each other from the violence and chaos in the world today. The speakers emphasized the need to support one another’s mental and physical health in these challenging times and how self-care should be a priority in everyone’s activities.

The Education Panel consisted of Suzanne Keller from The SOURCE at Red Bank Regional High School, Jenai Bacote (student), Diana Robles (student), and Brittany Dein (student). The moderator of this event was Marissa Henderson (Event Chair). Education has changed dramatically, with the rise of virtual learning, whereby teaching and learning have become challenging and burdensome to all participants involved. Teachers are now required to innovate their lesson plans and students are forced to focus in unusual environments for extended periods. Despite these persistent challenges, both sides are encouraged to come together to help and support each other.

Although most participants have been exhausted with the topic of COVID-19, the event addressed ways in which we can continue to move forward, living our lives while coexisting with the pandemic. It is also important for individuals to continue educating themselves and remain open to learning new things. We are all powerful in what we can do; however, our lifelong learning and adapting can enable us to be powerful in a positive way. Therefore, the call to action for all participants of this event is to consider the information provided and implement new and innovative solutions to the ongoing issues related to COVID-19.