Volunteer to Social Worker
I learned about the Farm in a very cool and happenstance way. In my senior year of college, I was at a networking event with alums. I met a staff psychologist, Amy Taylor, from Austen Riggs Center. She told me about The American Residential Treatment Association (ARTA). I was considering getting into mental health at the time, so I went on the ARTA website and looked at all the different programs.
Gould Farm had such a compelling description of their volunteer program. The uniqueness of the model intrigued me: holistic care in a community setting. I was very curious about the different ways mental healthcare would look like in that setting. Also, I am from California and wanted to be far away from California, so Massachusetts fit the bill! I watched the 15-min video of Gould Farm and that helped me envision what it would be like to live there.
Part of my interview and decision process was a 3-day visit. I really loved it. It was unique, strange, and intriguing – this combination of intentional living plus a professional experience, all in the same place. I ended up volunteering on the residential team and I was excited to also learn about farming and gardening – those were all options as part of the experience. There was an ethos of service at the Farm that appealed to me.
I was a volunteer for a little over a year. It remains one of the most meaningful experiences of my life. Overwhelming at first: learning the ropes, traditions, unspoken ways things are done, peoples’ relationship with one another, and the ins-and-outs of the residential team. I worked in McKee House and then Orchard House and, in the end, landed in East House once I became a staff member. More on that later!
As a volunteer, I remember how willing people were to help me as I got used to things. I feel incredibly lucky with how warm the staff, other volunteers, and guests were at welcoming me in. I felt eager to learn and people felt eager to teach and be patient with me. I felt like I was able to gain so much confidence and see myself as someone who could support and contribute back to the community. Gould Farm was such an important place for me to gain a great personal understanding of boundaries for myself and others.!
I made so many friends during my time at the Farm, and some of them are still very good friends. That feels very special. It was great to be in a cohort of volunteers and learn so much together. I fell in love with the Berkshires! I am from Los Angeles and had no idea about this part of the United States. I learned what it’s like to live with the four seasons and enjoy things like apple picking, maple syrup season, and snowshoeing.
By the end of my volunteer year, another staff member and I did a month-long yoga teacher training together. I came back and started teaching yoga in the community. I felt like my time wasn’t done yet. I felt there was still so much more to learn, give back, and grow into myself as a residential team member and community member. I wanted to keep learning from staff and guests and started considering what it might be like to move on and pursue clinical work or stay at the Farm.
A position opened up on the residential team and I applied for it and got it. It felt like a natural continuation of my work at the Farm. It felt like another step in taking on leadership and responsibility, to help create a safe microcosm of community in East House. It was scary and exciting and I was into the challenge of it. I stayed on the residential team and worked in the nursing office as well for two years.
Maybe a year into being a staff member, I started to think about where I wanted to go next. On the one hand I didn’t want to leave the Farm but my experience there made me more sure that I could see myself doing clinical, psychotherapeutic work. I had seen how amazing the clinical team at Gould Farm was and I wanted to do that, too. The clinical team really mentored me as I was making this decision and applying to graduate school. I got to turn to them and other staff members to process how to move on and set intentions and goals for my next steps. I ended up enrolling at the Smith College School for Social Work.
I graduated from social work school in August 2021. I am now living in New York City. My second internship during graduate school was at an LGBTQ health center and I was subsequently hired as a staff member in the Fall of 2021.
Working at Gould Farm gave me a very visceral and lived experience of what it means to be in relationship with someone else’s humanity. I apply so much of what I learned there to my clinical work now. I went to work today in Manhattan with a client and while meeting with them something came up, and I asked myself, “Hmmm, what would so-and-so at Gould Farm do in this situation?” I realize I have internalized how to treat people with dignity and humanity thanks to my time at the Farm.