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Everywhere All at Once

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ASPA as an organization.

By Sarah Sweeney
June 6, 2022

Each month when it’s time to sit down and put words to paper, I first consider what information is worth sharing; what would be interesting to learn about this time. In public administration we develop skills in observation, assessment and analysis, that are later translated into useful reports or commentaries designed to educate our communities on how to improve. With everything happening domestically and abroad right now, it has been fairly difficult to pick just one topic to focus on without becoming overwhelmed. And considering the impacts it could have on my readers, I want to remain as light as possible while still sharing the difficult themes. Three years ago I would have never imagined that in today’s society there would be so many days that would feel like the world is spinning off its axis. A global pandemic, increasing incidents of violence, war…remaining informed through public radio and news outlets has caused so much personal turmoil that it’s hard to not feel pulled in every direction at the same time. Keeping in mind that our duty as public administrators is to protect and serve our communities, through the legislative and procedural processes in which we function, I am reminded of the importance of providing opportunities for education and understanding. 

A key factor in surviving our reality is self-care and acknowledging the importance of taking care of ourselves so that we have the capacity to care for others. This is an incredibly difficult skill to maintain day to day without healthy boundaries between work and life, and takes a lot of energy to learn and develop over time. We are by nature social creatures that desire human contact and as public servants we have an innate need to appease those we work for. Many of us joined this profession to improve and develop our local economies and communities and so we have been conditioned to keep pushing forward until the work is done. What we must remember is that taking breaks and focusing on our own wellness is just as important as serving our communities, and at times vitally important in our ability to even keep the communities moving forward. We are the example, and so we must encourage those we lead to also take care of themselves. Unfortunately there will always be problems to solve and endless days, weeks, months and years of needing to improve; finding the balance between them all is what we must discover together.

One constant theme that I’ve been ruminating on lately has been the significant changes I’ve seen in my hometown, Seattle. The City has become almost unrecognizable these past two years, with the increased graffiti, increased visibility of homelessness, uptick in violence across all communities, rampant drug use and changes in policing and legal response to it all. I work in the human services field, providing services to the most vulnerable in my community, and am finding that I’ve become exhausted with doing the work; seeing the issues and hearing or reading about it in the news. It has become as if I can no longer escape or retreat into the comforts of my home life because I am surrounded by the ills of society. The boundary between work and life has become blurred and is somewhat uncomfortable. But then I realize this is what I’ve been drawn to as a public administrator, an innate urge and desire to fix these issues so that we might return to or become a newer cleaner version of our old selves. To begin the healing process for our communities we must first be sure we’ve identified the issues and develop solutions that match the need. When the world shut down due to Covid, all the issues that impacted our most vulnerable were heightened because the services that had been in place were closed and not as responsive as they once were. All the things we swept under the rug for so long burst out into the open and were no longer things we could look past.

As community leaders, we are responsible to think outside the box in developing social responses to social problems and encouraging our constituents to invest in building a stronger future for ourselves and our children. We can do this by creating pathways for service delivery in high need areas, breaking down the barriers to accessing those services for target audiences, investing in education, housing, mental health and substance use services for those most impacted and focusing on the goal of building stronger communities that will survive long term. We are not yet out of the woods in building back to pre-pandemic levels of stability, which will look different for each community, but at the very basic level we must ensure we are communicating and creating an equitable and sustainable plan.

Author: Sarah Sweeney is a professional social worker and public administrator in Washington State.  She may be contacted at [email protected]

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