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King City gets a social worker again

King City residents are in need of a social worker but the city has not had the money to hire one, until a recent agreement with Portland State University brings a graduate student to town
by: Contributed by Mary Jane Wykowski, Mary Jane Wykowski

Not since the 1990s has King City had a social worker to meet with residents who may be in crisis. Back then there was money for a social worker to serve the city twice a week, but when tax revenues dropped the position was cut from the budget.

'When we had the social worker before, she was very busy,' said City Manager Jane Turner. 'She did private counseling, grief support, took part in health issues, family support and outreach.'

The city administration has now figured out a way to put a social worker back in King City and it isn't costing residents a dime to have one.

Recently social worker, Mary Jane Wykowski, a graduate student from Portland State University, started working at City Hall. Her focus has been to review a database updating contacts and assessing facility connections and available resources.

Wykowski is doing field work in King City twice a week as part of her graduate studies.

She will be in King City on Wednesdays and Thursdays working with Turner, the chief of police and a committee of residents created by the administration.

'We are fortunate to have her here, we don't have any money in the budget,' said Turner. 'We're just getting it off the ground, getting it established again.'

Wykowski has a degree in communications from the University of Colorado and had recently gone back to school for the graduate program in social work.

She said her role will be 'taking the difficult questions about the quality of life and social services and creating health and outreach social services council.'

For example one of the first outside services Wykowski found available to King City residents is that they can contact the organization, Beaverton Dispute Resolution, and use the service even though they aren't Beaverton residents.

'I look at myself as a broker of services, I find out what Meridian Park Hospital has to offer residents or from any of the other health care institutions.' She evaluates what other services are offered by Washington County or the State of Oregon as well. Working with the police in King City, when an officer might take notice of a possible problem while out on patrol, the chief contacts Wykowski. If some services she has researched can be used to mitigate a critical situation, she can help the people get in contact with the agency.

'I'm looking at services we don't have here and finding out why we don't have them and what does it take to make it happen and get those services.'

Working in King City also has benefits to the Graduate School of Social Work at PSU and the student interns.

Scott Nine, an assistant professor in the program and the assistant director of field education for the school said the graduate students are required to do two internships, each of 500 hours as part of their studies.

'In the first year we want students to get experience working with individuals, groups families in a community at a larger policy level,' said Nine.

He said Wykowski is working with the city manager to quickly respond to residents in the community that struggle with medical issues, grief from loss and failing health and learning first hand what social work requires.

'You can't learn to be a social worker from a textbook, you have to be out in the community learning with the people,' Nine said. 'The citizens are offered support while the student is learning and gets supervision from an experienced social worker here at the school. Mary Jane gets an opportunity to grow and learn and the town gets someone who can provide services. It's a good point of contact. The student has lots of support and she doesn't have to solve all of the problems, but she can begin to engage in help that over time can grow.'

The Graduate School program has 376 students as interns across Oregon. They work in homeless shelters, with displaced youth, in social service administration positions, and do grant writing for communities.

Though the interns may come and go over the course of the years, a committee has been set up by the City Manager provides the city a continuation of policy directing the social workers as they come into the community.

Nine explained that utilizing the committee set up by the city, there can be a discussion about how the community can help themselves rather than looking for people outside to provide services.

'There is a lot of collective community ability in King City,' he said, adding that the committee can bring to the table discussions about 'what can the residents offer one another by talking to each other, seeing what our own capacity is in the community, to get engaged and not be completely service dependent.'

Turner said she is looking for interested residents to serve on the board that meets monthly. The first order of business is to establish guidelines for the scope of their work.

'Anybody who wants to volunteer can be on the board,' said Turner.

To inquire about joining the board call King City City Manager Jane Turner at 503-639-4082.