“They need a hype man. They need a cheerleader. This is not an ‘I’ thing, this is a ‘we’ thing. You do your part and I’ll do mine,” Veronica Pierce says of her youth. Veronica is a therapist with our Transitional Teen Services (TTS) department and works with about 25 UCAN youth.
“I can honestly say becoming a social worker was never in my plans,” she says. “It wasn’t until I actually began working at UCAN’s residential building that I realized I wanted to be a strong, fearless and determined voice for our youth. Coming from a place of pain, loneliness and uncertainty myself, I wanted to give our youth hope and purpose but most importantly the feeling of being connected to people who genuinely care for them.”
Veronica grew up in Lincoln Park and then moved to Mississippi at the age of 12. “As a kid, I was moved around a lot. I was bounced all over the place, between my parents, grandparents, and friends,” she says of her childhood.
During her junior year of high school, she became pregnant. “I had my first kid at 17 and I was homeless. I knew I had to work, I had this kid, but I knew I also needed to graduate high school.” Veronica, who graduated from high school early, went on to share, “I knew what it felt like to be separated from family. My siblings were in the system, and I didn’t want that for my son.”
When she moved back to Chicago in 2006, she was the mother of two boys, working at a bank, and then the Chicago Park District. In 2013, she joined UCAN’s team as a Central Office Specialist at our residential building, working overnights, and discovered her passion for helping youth.
It was this passion that led Veronica to become a caseworker. From there, she went on to get her Master’s degree in social work from St. Francis University, all while being a full-time student, a full-time employee, and a full-time mom.
“I’ve been inspired by all my youth,” she says. “I get so happy when they make baby steps. We have to be happy with the small successes, and I think sometimes we forget about that. We expect them to go to school and do all of these things, and function. How do we expect this population to do all that?”
Veronica strongly believes that celebrating the small things are important steps on the road to healing. “For one thing, in our department, graduating high school is huge,” she explains. “I always make sure I’m at those graduations, and I bring them flowers and balloons. Sometimes there is no family, sometimes we are their family. I don’t treat these clients any different than my own children.”
When it is common to hear, “Don’t make a mountain out of a molehill,” Veronica thinks the opposite. “It’s the little things! You got a job? I’m so excited!” she tells her youth. “The progress that you’re making, you are the reason I roll out of bed and do this every day, because this is motivating and it’s very inspiring.”
Though Veronica finds uplifting moments with her youth as a therapist, the job can be emotionally challenging. Her toughest experience happened when one of her clients miscarried after originally deciding to keep the baby. After the miscarriage, the client attempted to take her own life. “I was there at the hospital and we were all heartbroken. Sometimes you can appear insensitive,” she explains. “Me and my client can’t be balled up in the fetal position. One of us has to be the strong one. People in this profession, we can be stones at work, then go home and fall apart, because it can be hard; it can be sad.”
Though this work is accompanied by challenges, Veronica couldn’t imagine doing anything else. “I am passionate about the work and also enjoy advocating on our youths’ behalf, and I was thrilled to be able to combine the two,” she says. “UCAN is very big. I feel like we cover so many different areas of social work, from parenting, to education to community work to mental health. I’m comfortable here. I think in this work you develop relationships, for us in TTS, it’s like family. We are all going through traumas with these clients together, and you need a really strong team and a supportive agency. And I think UCAN has definitely done that for me.”
“The youth, who come from a place of complete loss, who are working to rebuild their lives – they are most inspiring.”