For weeks, Carla Paisley has been waking up before dawn to jump on the Internet and rigorously search through the vaccine system in Maryland for her elderly relatives and friends. On a recent morning, she scored, landing an appointment for her stepfather, a military veteran with three high-risk factors, to get the COVID-19 vaccine. She has logged dozens of hours online scouring mass vaccination sites and successfully booked appointments for her father and mother too, making what seemed like the impossible, possible.
“It’s frustrating for some seniors who have challenges with technology to begin with,” Paisley says. “Signing up can be tricky and I wanted to do what I could to make sure they get these important shots.”
Paisley, 46, is a guardian angel of sorts for many elderly folks and the Baltimore City, Md., community where she lives. A single mom of five, she is poised to graduate with a Master of Social Work (MSW) from Chamberlain in December of 2021. Helping her family and members of her community set the wheels in motion and has since taken off with a mission to help people in high-risk communities.
“Social work will allow me to treat the whole person,” says Paisley. “I’ve finally found my life’s calling and passion and that is holistic care.”
Specifically, she wants to work with individuals helping them heal from traumas. It has been a long and winding road, but one that pulled her toward her calling. Paisley graduated with a bachelor degree in public health from the University of Maryland. She has worked with a city program mentoring at-risk, pregnant teens, attended midwifery school and worked as a doula, studied nursing, and taught at a high school.
“I found I really loved the counseling side of working with postpartum women and thought nursing would be the path for that,” she says. “But one of my supervisors said to me ‘While you are a fully capable nurse, I think you would be a much stronger candidate as a social worker.’”
Paisley started Chamberlain’s MSW program in May of 2020, smack in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic. Currently she is juggling her studies with a remote internship for the National Latino Behavioral Health Institute in New Mexico. Bilingual, she interprets the training program for members of the non-profit organization, which aims to influence national health policy and improve the quality of service and treatment outcomes for Latino populations.
“The silver lining of COVID is that I’ve gotten to dig deep into my studies and it has given me the opportunity to really stop and examine what the next 40 years of my life could look like,” says Paisley.
In the future, she hopes to work with organizations like the International Rescue Committee, an agency that supports immigrant rights; Chase Brexton Health, a community health organization which supports healthcare access for often overlooked Baltimore City residents; or the American Civil Liberties Union. Ultimately, she envisions getting her doctorate in social work and opening her own private practice for refugees and at-risk people who don’t have good access to medical and mental health care.
Going back to school during the pandemic has had its challenges. She is mom to five children ages 13 through 22. A trained ballerina, Paisley’s children have inherited her love of the performing arts. Her son Xavier recently auditioned for the Dance Theater of Harlem in New York City. Another son, Ezra attends The Rock School for Dance Education in Philadelphia and her daughters, Seraphine and Niobe attend performing arts schools (currently remotely and living at home.)
Quarantined and doing her own social work studies from home, Paisley is often relegated to the basement for remote class time as her daughters’ study and practice their ballet on the hardwood floors above her.
“In many ways I’ve been blessed during the pandemic ‘attending’ school alongside my daughters,” she says. “We make sure to eat every meal together and that has been so nice.”
Chamberlain celebrates the contributions of social workers to community well-being, especially as the nation currently addresses the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, this Social Work Month.
Interested in learning more about how you can become an agent of social change?
By Mary Beth Sammons
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