The Value of Social Work Campaign Champions Program
Social Worker Champion: Larissa Smeltzer
Social Workers are vessels of change
After attending a youth conference in Grade 11 that introduced Larissa Smeltzer to the realities of human trafficking, a spark grew inside her for social justice that led her to become a registered social worker.
“What I like best about being a social worker is the chance to be able to meet so many beautiful human beings and seeing change, whether systemic or on the ground level. I also love that every day I am given the space to learn, grow and reflect in who I am as a person and what I can bring to each session. Being a social worker is a profession, but it becomes a lot of who you are too.”
Smeltzer is currently a first walk-in counsellor at Envision for clients in the southeast region of Saskatchewan as part of a province-wide initiative funded and lead by Family Services Saskatchewan. Envision is a non-profit centre and aims to help individuals, families, and couples feel empowered by providing therapeutic counselling and support, in-home services, groups, workshops, and education.
Smeltzer holds space for anyone and everyone to feel comfortable to start, continue, and move through their healing journey. As part of a walk-in, she provides free one-hour sessions rooted in brief solution-focused therapy – something Smeltzer says is a service our communities have needed for a long time.
“The beautiful part about walk-in is its purpose, which is really to prevent people from falling through the cracks. Walk-in is free of mandates which means anyone can access the service and it acts as a catch all for people. I will see anything from addictions, to mental health, to relationship issues to work stress in any given day.”
Smeltzer was initially skeptical if she had made the right choice in pursuing social work, but she says that thought quickly faded as she grew into her program and began her career path. For her first two years of post-secondary study, she attended Redeemer University College in Hamilton, Ont., where she was enrolled in the Sociology/Social Work program. She then transferred to the University of Waterloo’s Renison University College, where she completed a Bachelor of Arts in Social Development studies. She was then accepted into Renison’s Bachelor of Social Work Program where she continued to thrive.
Smeltzer said that one of the defining moments of her education was when she was able to do her work placement at the White Owl Native Ancestry Association.
“This placement was monumental in the development of my approach,” she recalls. “During my placement I was honored to learn from Ojibway Nation teachings and to be guided in becoming a better ally. This placement led me to adopt an authentic person-centered, holistic approach to my work. I always want to bring honor to this placement as I believed it is foundational to how I have developed in the field.”
After graduating, she worked with Welcome Home Refugee House in Waterloo, Ont., where she had the opportunity to share space and walk along women, men and children from all over the world. She was able to provide support to newly-arrived refugees and help them to settle into a new way of life.
She then became the Lead Youth Support Worker for Notre Dame House, which is the only youth shelter in Hamilton. She worked with youth ages 16-21 on their journey of wellness, where she enjoyed the chance to combine front-line support skills and leadership responsibilities.
“I learned so much from each youth that came in the doors,” said Smeltzer. “They are resilient, resourceful, strong, brave, courageous, creative, and most-of-all, incredibly brilliant in so many ways.
After Notre Dame House, she transitioned back to her home community of Estevan and was hired as the Interpersonal Violence and Abuse Counsellor. She provided counselling to anyone who was a survivor or secondary survivor of interpersonal violence.
“What I liked most about this position was having the honour to be a part of many different peoples healing journey. It is still what I love most about being a counsellor – when you see the pain subside a bit and see people choose life, it is incredibly rewarding.”
Smeltzer encourages others to consider a career in social work if you are interested in having an impact on the world.
“As my Dad likes to remind me so often, a social worker, a session or a moment can be the difference between life and death for someone. A safety plan whether it is for suicide, domestic violence, homicidal ideation, etc., can quite literally save a person’s life. Social workers are vessels of change and make a difference by showing up and being there at times when no one else can or will.”