Going the Extra Mile at Shriners Children’s New England
Social Work Month, celebrated every March, is a time to recognize the integral role that social workers play in Shriners Children’s unique model of wrap-around care.
At Shriners Children’s New England, social worker Mayra DeJesus, MSW, LCSW, draws on her case management experience and network of community resources to help both patients and families thrive. She is committed to going the extra mile to help identify services that support the wellbeing and future success of every patient she serves.
Mayra began her career working as a mental health case manager for both children and adults, then became a public school social worker and adjustment counselor after receiving her master’s degree in social work. It was during her master’s program that Mayra was introduced to Shriners Children’s New England. “I have always felt that I’ve been in the right place at the right time,” she said. “I was very lucky to do my first internship right here at Shriners, and I immediately fell in love with the mission.” That experience came full circle for her in 2018 when she joined the care management team as a social worker.
Born and raised in Puerto Rico, Mayra may be called on to help Spanish-speaking patient families navigate their medical appointments. As she helps families communicate with their Shriners Children’s care team, she often learns about other challenges they may be experiencing with housing, medical equipment or educational support, and identifies community resources that can provide assistance. “My many years of experience and exposure to different community agencies allow me to provide the best service to my patients and their families,” Mayra said. “Every detail means so much to each family.”
Advocating for families to receive appropriate educational services and accommodations is something that Mayra is particularly passionate about. She educates families about students’ rights, and services available to children with disabilities in the school setting. When teenage patients reach the end of high school and are considering their post-secondary plans, Mayra helps them to identify what their options are. She often makes referrals to agencies that help individuals with disabilities find training, education and employment. Currently, four of Mayra’s patients are enrolled in college with assistance that she helped to initiate.
Finding Confidence, Achieving Success
Raiza, a Shriners Children’s New England patient with cerebral palsy, is especially grateful for Mayra’s assistance. A freshman at Westfield State University in Westfield, Massachusetts, Raiza and her family started working with Mayra on the transition to college at the beginning of her senior year of high school. “The time for college applications came around and we had no idea how we were going to do it,” Raiza recalled.
Mayra helped Raiza secure financial assistance and transportation services for school. Already settling into her second semester of college, Raiza has declared communications as her major and now feels comfortable advocating for herself on campus. “I used to be the kid who wouldn’t speak when it came to my disability. I let other people do it for me,” she said. “Once I started talking to Mayra, she encouraged me to do it myself. She’s really helped me come out of my shell.”
When Mayra connects children and families to community resources, she opens doors to opportunities that they never knew existed. “Some kids don’t think there is a future for them,” she said. “They don’t think that far ahead because they don’t think they can do it.”
Overcoming Obstacles Together
Ionel, another Shriners Children’s New England patient and first year college student, has also benefitted from transition planning with Mayra. Born with spina bifida and cerebral palsy, Ionel has undergone four surgeries and worked with the rehabilitation team at Shriners Children's New England since becoming a patient in 2011. He is currently enrolled in an online cybersecurity program at Holyoke Community College in Holyoke, Massachusetts, made possible by funding that Mayra helped him secure.
Mayra has been a trusted resource for Ionel’s entire family, often translating for his parents during medical appointments. “My parents don’t speak English, so it’s been helpful for them to have someone there who is friendly and patient and speaks their language,” he said. “When I was younger I couldn’t translate for them because I needed a certain amount of medical understanding. I’ve listened and learned from Mayra so I can help my parents now.”
When Ionel first became a patient, his family was also struggling to find suitable housing. They were living in a two-story apartment, requiring Ionel’s dad to carry him, and his wheelchair, up and down the stairs. After Mayra learned of their situation, she contacted the housing authority to help the family secure a handicapped accessible, single floor house.
“Mayra puts her heart and soul into her work,” said Ionel. “Going from an apartment to a house lifted such a weight off my parents’ shoulders because they didn’t have to worry about getting me up and down the stairs.”
Helping families navigate their child’s care, and advocating for services that can improve their everyday lives, embodies the Shriners Children’s mission of providing compassionate, comprehensive care. It is that aspect of social work that Mayra finds most gratifying.
“It’s rewarding when families ask for me and they feel comfortable,” said Mayra. “Whether you’re helping the entire family secure housing or other services, or you are helping to advocate for what their child needs in school, you are giving them a better future and a better life.”
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