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Sharee Johnson

woman smiling wearing a white topWhen asked how many clients she has helped over the years, Sharee Johnson pauses to make a mental count. “Thousands,” she says succinctly. As she looks back on her eighteen-year career in social work, it seems that number is surprising, even to her.

An internship for her master’s degree in social work brought her to the County’s Division of Senior and Adult Services Information Services Unit. Here, she receives cases that do not fall under the purview of clinical or protective services – these clients need something more.

But Johnson’s career did not begin in senior services. In fact, she started off at the Metzenbaum Center where she worked in the Transport Unit, shuttling children in custody to their new foster families. “The transport work helped me build a foundation, since I got to know these foster parents,” she says. “Having a persona l connection to them helped me be more effective later in my career.”

Her first venture into social work was with the Sobriety, Treatment and Recovery Team (START) Program, where she worked with families with chemical dependency issues. “I learned the meaning of empathy,” she notes. “I was holding the lives of these families in my hands. The parents’ lifestyles were very different from mine, so I had to adjust my thinking to help them find solutions that worked for them.”

She encountered one of her greatest challenges here – addicted newborns. “Seeing those babies in withdrawal takes its toll,” she admits. “It is emotionally draining, but you need to be diligent because that child is counting on you for help.

Afterwards, she transferred to the Placement Unit, where she worked the night shift placing children in foster homes. She explained that many of the night placements are emergencies. “I placed a family of ten children one night,” she recalls. “I pulled from my experience in the Transport Unit. I had solid relationships with many of those foster parents, so I was able to find a good family to care for all ten.” She smiles as she recalls receiving a picture of the entire group at a hibachi restaurant. “These children had never experienced anything like that, so the foster parents enjoyed being able to share that with them.”

Helping seniors is different than helping children, Johnson says, but as challenging and rewarding. “They are coming to us for help, so I always find them something,” she asserts. “I exhaust every resource to help them, even if it’s only a reduction in their prescription costs. That savings can help them pay their light bill the following month.”

Johnson notes that self-care is something you learn to value as a social worker. “I didn’t think about self-care at the beginning of my career,” she admits. “But I have children of my own, and I had to learn to leave the stress at work so I could be the mom I wanted to be. Relaxation is key – yoga, a good book or a trusted friend are my resources when I am needing to decompress.”

Johnson encourages people to explore social work. “You need to be a ‘people person’ – to be open and loving to different kinds of people and want for them to do the right thing,” she shares. “You need to be open to their views and respect their feelings and opinions. You need to meet them where they are.”