Tricia Janes always knew she wanted to work helping kids. But during her time as a social work major at SUNY Brockport in the 1990s, she kept hearing the same thing over and over.
“You’ll change your major,” said Janes, recalling what those who sought to dissuade her from her chosen career path would say. “You’re not going to want to listen to kids’ problems all day every day.”
But as it turned out, Janes did want to listen to kids’ problems and has spent her 23-year career in social work helping young people navigate hard times and come out, intact, on the other side.
In a testament to the positive impact she’s had on the county’s young people over the past two decades, Janes was recently named the 2022 recipient of the Outstanding Youth and Family Advocate award.
Given annually by the Wyoming County Mental Health Department, the award recognizes someone “who cares for children and families in our community, promotes compassion and understanding, and works to eliminate stigma toward individuals with mental illness.”
In a letter informing Janes of her award, Kristen Fisher, the assistant director of adult services for the Department of Mental Health, cited Janes’ consistent and ongoing advocacy of the needs of children and families in Wyoming County.
“All who work with you, from children to families to colleagues, have benefitted from your insight and guidance, your respect, and your genuine warmth. We are appreciative of your promotion of whole-body wellness in the community, as well as your compassion and stigma-busting efforts evidenced by your support of our Suicide Prevention Coalition,” wrote Fisher. “On behalf of the Wyoming County Mental Health Department, and all those who struggle with mental illness in Wyoming County, we again thank you for your compassion and efforts and are truly blessed by your work in our community”
Janes was nominated for the award by Gordon Lew, who chairs the Mental Health Department’s Community Services Board and spoke glowingly of her ability in his nominating form.
“I've known of Trisha's work for more than 15 years. In her capacity as School Social Worker she has encountered every conceivable student and family situation,” Lew wrote. “I personally worked on a team with her and an elementary principal, school psychologist, school nurse and DSS officials to address problematic situations involving families, in a group, in order to identify the broadest view of a particular situation, and develop plans accordingly. I also worked one on one with her regarding individual students and their families… I think Trisha is an outstanding community professional.”
Janes started her career at Perry Central Schools, spending 19 years in the district before coming over to Attica in 2018. An ACS alumna, Janes said it’s always been her goal to return to Attica and serve the children in her hometown.
“I’ve always wanted to work where I was born and raised and give back to this community so here I am,” she said. “I love it and here I am finally serving kids in my own community.”
There really is no such thing as a normal day at work for Janes, who said never knowing what’s in store is one of the things she loves most about her job.
“Sometimes it's seeing students for individual therapy, sometimes it’s pushing into a classroom to teach social emotional lessons, sometimes it’s meeting with parents and calling parents,” she said. “I do have my list of scheduled kids I’m supposed to see each week but then if there’s a crisis - like today. I had three teachers call and tell me kids had a bad weekend, can you see this kid? They just found out mom and dad are getting a divorce, the kid needs a little bit of support.”
When approaching a child in need of support, Janes said she strives to keep her ears open and let the child talk about what they’re feeling.
“Sometimes kids just need to feel heard and they need to feel heard from an objective party - not a mom, not a dad, not an aunt, uncle, brother or sister, not a teacher,” she said. “They need - someone that’s really going to listen to their needs and help their needs get met.”
But knowing when she’s met a student’s needs and made a difference in their life can sometimes be difficult, Janes acknowledged.
“It’s kind of like an open-ended thing. You don’t ever feel like there's a finish,” she said. “With woodworking, you make a table and it's like ‘Wow, look at that finished product.’ It’s not like that with social work. I guess the best indicator that you’ve made a difference is when you feel you have a relationship with kids, when you help them through their darkest times and they’ll just stop by to say ‘Hello.’”
Ultimately for Janes, it’s the prospect of helping a child through a difficult time that keeps her love of the profession strong.
“Not everyone gets to come in and work with amazing kids and amazing teachers,” he saisd. “Every day is different for me. I have 50 adults and hundreds of kids that I work with - it's just a really cool atmosphere and I’m never bored. I feel so lucky I get to make a difference every single day in these kids’ lives.”
Janes will be presented with her award during a recognition breakfast at the Valley Chapel in Warsaw May 17.