Reflections from MSW Practicum Student Lee Baker

As my time with AgePRIDE comes to a close, I wanted to reflect on my experience over the past year as the Master of Social Work practicum student. This past year has been one of the most educational and transformational experiences of my life and has shaped not only how I view social work, but also the world around me and what community means to me as a queer and trans person.

But to have a full reflection, I have to start at the beginning. I found this placement during a rough patch in my first year of graduate school, a time in which I felt that I was stuck in a bout of bad luck. After multiple rejections I came across their position posting – a Practice and Program Specialist, working with LGBTQ+ elders to run support groups and other programs. It felt too good to be true, I had all the skills and qualifications desired and a drive to continue to work with my community across the lifespan. I applied, interviewed, and was offered the position almost immediately. I was ecstatic to be in community with elders for one of the first times of my life, and to be able to use and grow my skills here for my first practicum placement. I was invited to attend Dine Together the day after my 24th birthday and had my first glimpse of true community for the first time since moving to Seattle for my graduate program. I knew that AgePRIDE was where I was supposed to end up.

Over the course of this year, I’ve learned a great deal not just about being a social worker or about working in service to your community, but also about myself. I’ve challenged my own internalized ageism and have grown to see aging as a privilege, not something to be fought against in an attempt at holding onto youth. So many of us have not had the chance to grow old, and while celebrating our youth while we have it is important, it’s important to embrace the wisdom that the passing of time imparts on us. I think in this way, AgePRIDE and its programs have really shown me how integral elders are to community, especially one such as the LGBTQ+ community. One area this is especially apparent for me was through my work with Legacy Letters; during my Research Methods courses I had the privilege of observing and then participating in our first two LGBTQ+ specific cohorts, in which I saw the importance of intergenerational connection across a community. Through this experience I have met so many interesting people with amazing stories to tell and been able to see the difference that the Legacy Letters program has had on their lives and building community. I have also had the chance to push myself outside of my comfort zone; facilitating community support groups is something that I’ve done previously, but only within my own shared identities and experiences. Co-facilitating the Caregiver Support Group not only gave me the chance to get to know a small group of wonderful, hardworking people caring for their loved ones, but also helped me to learn more about dementia, aging, and supporting people through experiences that I haven’t been through.

Now, at the end of my placement here, I look back fondly on the people I’ve met, worked with, and learned from. My final day falls on my 25th birthday, a day shy of a full year here at AgePRIDE. If there’s anything that the last few years have shown me, it is how much change can happen in such a short time. My experience working here made this past year truly transformative for me; to be given a space to learn, grow, challenge my ideas and beliefs, and finally find what community means to me again. It has shaped and prepared me as a social worker, for my career path, and who I want to be one day in the future. I’m not sure what my future holds, but I do know I will always hold AgePRIDE, my amazing co-workers and supervisor, and all the wonderful participants I’ve met close to my heart. Everyone I’ve met here has changed me in some way, and to every participant that has allowed me into your life, even if just for a moment, thank you for being a part of my story and experience as I learn and grow. To my coworkers and supervisor at AgePRIDE, thank you for your never-ending support in my journey, my research, and my future. Words cannot describe how influential this opportunity has been on my life and how I view the world and community, and I thank you again for having shared this experience with me. It’s bittersweet to leave behind the people and relationships I’ve made here as I move onto my final year of my master’s program and next practicum placement, and as a Midwesterner I’m not very good at goodbyes. But I guess this is goodbye, or at least goodbye for now.

Thank you again for everything.