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Real-World Trauma Experience

SAGU social work students gain insights through partnership program.

WAXAHACHIE, Texas — Social work majors enrolled at Southwestern Assemblies of God University (SAGU) don’t just soak up theoretical knowledge in the classroom. They gain practical experience thanks to a partnership the SAGU Social Work Department launched in 2019 with The Heights, the Ellis County Family Resource Center.

Seven interns from the school have helped create policy and procedures for The Heights, gone to on-site visits of those impacted by domestic violence, and conducted trainings for the county.

SAGU social work teachers do their best to learn students’ strengths to determine what discipline would best fit them.

Lacey Godsby graduated from SAGU with a bachelor’s degree in counseling in 2005 and returned to work at the school in 2017 after the social work program launched.

Godsby’s husband, Brian Todd, died unexpectedly in June 2019 — three months after the couple adopted three children.

"It really changed my understanding of community,” says Godsby, 38. “I needed community when I was struggling with grief so that I didn’t feel so alone.” Because she knows the presence of others in such situations can be life-changing, Godsby advocates that SAGU students become involved in community settings.

These days, in addition to teaching at SAGU, Godsby is the clinician on call for Denton County MHMR. She provides staffing for crisis assessments for individuals who are experiencing suicidal/homicidal ideations, psychosis, substance abuse, and other life stressors. She is on call after business hours and during weekends.

“Our field is very difficult because we work with trauma on a daily basis,” says Godsby, who completed her doctorate of social work last November. “Individuals must have a community of support.”

Godsby now has six children, including one biological and two stepchildren since her January 2021 remarriage to Joshua Godsby. Godsby — who also is a city council member  in Oak Leaf, 11 miles north of Waxahachie — keeps in touch with her SAGU social work graduates.

That includes Faith “Faye” Nicholson, who graduated from SAGU in 2022 and now is children’s services director at The Heights, after doing an internship there during her last semester. Nicholson is involved in programs and events such as camp with those under age 17.

“We want to talk to them about how they can break out of the cycle of family trauma that might be happening at home, to make sure they don’t repeat it with their own kids,” says Nicholson, 22.

Godsby, who works with suicidal clients, acknowledges that some of them have no use for religion. However, she says it helps if social workers have such an undergirding.

“In the field of social work, we respect our clients’ self-determination, but to meet their needs we must have a strong faith,” Godsby says. “Social workers see clients on their worst day, when they are angry and hurt. Our job is to keep them alive. We won’t always share faith openly, but we want to ensure that the client sees hope in the future.”

SAGU professor Sandi Barberis, who created SAGU’s social work program, agrees that Christian social workers must be solidly grounded by their faith.

“We’re on the front lines of a dark world,” says Barberis, who earned her doctorate of social work administration in 2018. “I don’t have answers to all the questions, but in a crisis I can stop and ask the Holy Spirit what to do.”

Barberis, 65, has a background in social work, largely in child welfare regarding foster care and adoption. Barberis, who has taught at SAGU for a decade, shepherded the social work program to accreditation from the Council on Social Work Education in 2019. SAGU offers multiple courses in the field, including the electives of abuse/neglect, women’s studies, international social work, and forensic social work.

When a student is considered in advanced standing for the graduate program, he or she can count practicum hours from the Bachelor of Social Work program as well as some of the main courses for graduate credit. The reduction in required credits allows students to complete the program in a year, saving both time and money.

Barberis hopes Christians feel a prompting to become more involved in the field.

“Social work has always existed in the Church by helping those who are vulnerable and by promoting social justice and action to help all individuals have access to basic rights and daily needs,” Barberis says. “The Church could play a more active role by promoting child welfare initiatives as well as working within the community to help those who are struggling in poverty. The Church’s support of assessing mental health treatment and encouraging equal access to resources and developing a positive community are also needed.”

Godsby notes that most social work majors at SAGU actually started studying for a career as a minister or missionary. She believes social work classes are beneficial for those who might enter such a field as school teaching.

“It’s a practical application in any setting,” Godsby says. “Even when we’re not allowed to preach, we can still be the hands and feet of Jesus.” At SAGU, Godsby teaches classes such as human behavior in the social environment, delinquent behavior, and adolescent rehabilitation.

Nicholson notes that compassion is a quality social workers must possess.

“People are not always nice to us,” Nicholson says. “But the heart of Jesus is to serve and love people before you, rather than to judge them about their wrong decisions.”

Barberis says social workers must learn to not take rejection and anger outbursts personally. Sometimes, she says, a social worker may be the only person an isolated parent feels safe confiding in about a difficult situation.

UPPER PHOTO: Lacey Godsby teaches a class at SAGU.

LOWER PHOTO: Social work advocates from SAGU are (from left) Sandi Barberis, Faye Nicholson, and Lacey Godsby.

John W. Kennedy

John W. Kennedy served as news editor of AG News from its inception in 2014 until retiring in 2023. He previously spent 15 years as news editor of the Pentecostal Evangel and seven years as news editor at Christianity Today.