Leadership Spotlight: Erica Baltezore
This month, we're pleased to feature one of our amazing Social Worker Supervisors, Erica Baltezore as our selection for leadership spotlight.
Erica took time out of her day to talk a bit about how her early life and she came to work with EA Family Services, the advice she'd give to those interested in a similar career path, and more!
Can you tell us about your early life, and what led you to EA?
When I was five, my dream was to be a secretary named Katie. That didn't really pan out. I followed that with a 10-year plan meandering through my secondary education looking for whatever it was I wanted to be. It was mostly just drinking coffee, traveling, and writing a lot of bad poetry.
Once I discovered Psychology, I knew what I wanted to do. I've been working with young people and youth development programs for about 18 years. I started with transitional aged youth, and eventually got the opportunity to work with young people in non-public schools and group home settings.
While my degree is in Counseling Psychology and I've done mostly therapeutic work, I jumped at the opportunity to focus on Social Work and support others who are taking great care of kids. I'm just a small town girl living in a lonely world. I took the midnight train and it took me to EA. It's been an excellent opportunity to challenge myself and grow, both personally and professionally. I can't imagine doing anything else now.
Were there any experiences in your early life that contributed to your success with EA?
My parents were very hardworking people who instilled in me a solid work ethic. We didn't have a lot of money, but we had a very large garden with various livestock, which we relied upon for the majority of our food. It took contributions from the whole family to be successful, which encouraged me to value hard work. I'm also very comfortable around farm animals, so I have that going for me.
I think I've seen the most professional benefits from working in a group home. It's a completely different experience in caring for young people, and takes constant teamwork, commitment, and dedication, especially when times are rough. I was extremely fortunate to spend those years with really amazing people. Working with severely emotionally disturbed youth has helped me keep my reactions and behaviors in perspective and remain calm when they're in crisis.
What advice would you give to someone interested in working with youth in foster care?
One of my favorite sayings goes along the lines of: "We are always planing seeds, though we rarely enjoy the shade." Every interaction, teachable moment, encouragement, and caring gesture has the ability to take root. Sometimes it takes years to bloom, and most of the time we don't get to see it, but I have faith in that. Working with youth is a long-term investment, but the payoff makes your heart and other lives rich. Let go of your ego with kids. They come to us with hurting hearts, and if they show us their pain we can't take it personally. Play, pretend, and dream with them. Be present in the moment, and don't be afraid to look silly, goofy, or absolutely ridiculous. I think it's unfair that we're only allowed 18 years to look foolish, especially since I was well into my 20's when they started making those shoes that light up.
What do you enjoy doing when you're not at work?
I spend a remarkable amount of time in pajamas. Mostly my own. I enjoy getting dirty, looking at the stars, soaking in hot springs, and sleeping in a tent. I've had some great adventures in the last few years, but my favorite pastime is puttering. I binge-watch Netflix and cuddle with the cat I stole from my landlord's son. His name is Percy. The cat, not the child. I have two mini goats named Henry and Honey, and I love just being with them. They make my heart happy.
What's a hidden talent that you have, or something about you that would surprise most people?
My hidden talent is that with no provocation at all, a total stranger will tell me their life story. It happens all the time, and I've heard some really interesting stories. I've had a lifelong love of Simon and Garfunkle. I started learning to play the banjo at age 40. My first crush was on Chewbacca, and I was kind of sad when I found out he had a wife and family back home on Kashyyyk. My mother never knew I was listening to Public Enemy on my Walkman while doing my homework at the dining room table. I've never seen the movie Titanic, and I have unusually strong opinions about the attitudes of certain fruits or vegetables.
Anything else you'd like to add?
Get kids outdoors. Great challenges take place and amazing relationships are formed in the woods, on rivers or lakes, on the hiking trail, and especially around a campfire.