James Madison University

Offering Hope for the Future

By: Brett Seekford
Posted: September 28, 2015

This past summer, JMU Social Work student Bryanna Sniadecki received a scholarship to participate in a camp on the scenic shores of Lake Geneva, Wisconsin. In typical summer camp fashion, she bonded with her fellow campers, sat by the campfire, and spent time exploring the outdoors. This camp was different, however, because it focused on educating participants in effective methods for group therapy. Working alongside educators, social workers and other students, Sniadecki gained critical insight for her future. She often began her morning with yoga on the pier and would spend the rest of the day engaging in interactive activities or sitting in on lectures that promoted effective group facilitation.

PHOTO: Pier

Sniadecki, a junior in JMU’s social work program, received the scholarship in May from the International Association for Social Work with Groups (IASWG) to participate in their Group Work Camp at George Williams College. Sniadecki was the only JMU student to participate. She arrived in Wisconsin in late July for a week-long workshop that would equip her with skills for her future career.

Her work with Choices, a children’s support group in Luray, gave her valuable experience to include on her application for the scholarship. Her job responsibilities include co-facilitating a support group for children who have been affected by domestic violence. “The experience that I have had and continue to have weekly at Choices greatly influenced me to fill out the scholarship application to attend the camp,” Sniadecki explained. “I had always been a micro-minded individual regarding social work, and Choices made me fall in love with mezzo (group/community work) practice as well. Therefore, I wanted to improve my facilitation skills and learn new techniques to further my impact on the direction of the children in my group.”

At the camp, Sniadecki chose to participate in the beginning-level workshop, which included a diverse group. She met students from as young as nineteen years old to professionals in their seventies. “I chose the beginning level [workshop] because it had people from so many backgrounds and promoted group facilitation,” Sniadecki explained. She added, “It was such a great networking opportunity.”

Out of the many activities she participated in while at the camp, Sniadecki found the skill-swap events to be particularly memorable. These events allowed group members to share their particular skill sets with others who were interested. One of these skill-swaps stood out: “I personally enjoyed the one I went to about ‘Gentle Yoga’ where we learned techniques to teach yoga to seniors and those with disabilities in a way that would not cause them pain.” The group learned to adapt some of the yoga positions to the needs of elderly people. Taking part in these types of events helped broaden her interests.

After graduate school, Sniadecki hopes to open a children’s play therapy practice, where she’ll use play to communicate with and help clients. Many of the events provided greater understanding of her future career by allowing her to appreciate how it feels to be on the client side of a session.

“Empathy is very important to social work,” Sniadecki said. “Being able to put my feet in the shoes of my future clients was a new, invaluable experience.”

“This experience made me want to include group as well as individual work in my future practice. Group work helps kids realize that others have similar problems. I was used to working on an individual basis so the Group Work Camp gave me another perspective,” Sniadecki said.

Sniadecki clearly left a lasting impression on many of the other campers. At the end of the camp, one of her fellow participants turned to her and said, “You give me hope for the future.” Having already made important connections with so many people, she looks destined for success in her pursuit of a graduate education in social work.