Anthropology grad weaves the foundation for a future in social work
Reith Charlesworth was a familiar face at the iHuman Youth Society months before she ever began her community-based sociology research project with young mothers in its Woven Journey program. In August 2015, Reith began volunteering in the welcome area, providing basic services—answering phones, and handing out toiletries and bus tickets.
Volunteering made sense from a few perspectives. Growing increasingly passionate about what she was learning about social injustice in her sociology minor, the anthropology major wanted to put that learning to work and she wanted to make a difference.
“I had been thinking about social work as I got closer to the end of my Bachelor of Arts, and my experience as a volunteer and researcher with iHuman is really what cemented that,” says Reith.
Before posing a single research question to any of the single mothers under the age of 24 who take part in Woven Journey, Reith took time to get to know them.
“I tried to be as much a part of the group as I could for months before I conducted my own research,” says Reith. “I felt—and still feel—very invested in the futures of these women. I wanted to learn more about the unique barriers they face, and what they felt would be helpful to them as they are developing their parenting and life skills.”
During the Winter semester, Reith gathered her research data through one-on-one interviews with participants and staff, and a focus group structured as a sharing circle.
“Realizing that these young women were willing to talk to me and be so real and raw was very poignant,” says Reith. “I know it’s not always easy to open up, so I appreciated their honesty and their willingness to have their stories be heard.”
In listening, Reith discovered that all of the participants had spent at least part of their childhoods in the child welfare system, and that all of them had to change their lifestyles drastically when they became parents.
“While lifestyle changes happen for every parent, these women were at the same time facing systematic issues, such as racism and poverty,” explains Reith. “Being in care while they were young also meant that they were disconnected from their indigenous cultures. Every participant said that becoming a parent motivated them to reconnect with the cultures they had lost.”
Her research also found that Woven Journey went beyond supporting these women, in some cases it was a lifeline.
“When these mothers felt isolated or like they didn’t have anyone to reach out to, this group was incredibly important. It’s a place where all of these women said that they could be with people they could relate to and not have to explain themselves, or feel judged.”
While her research project is now complete, Reith continues to volunteer at iHuman, and plans to apply to graduate programs in social work next year.
“I was pretty naïve when I first came to MacEwan. I had this idea that I was going to travel the world as an anthropologist, writing books about different cultures,” she says, with a smile. “It’s not a bad dream to have, but it was pretty lofty. And over the past several years, I’ve learned that anthropology, sociology and social work are more connected than it might seem. Even though this was a sociology project, it felt like fieldwork, in a way—I spend so much time at iHuman, am so integrated into the community, and I really want to understand their experience.”
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