Social work alumna reflects on a career of service

For Wayne State University (WSU) School of Social Work alum Joanne Bonds, a career based in helping others was always the goal. “Although I started in education working as an elementary school teacher, I knew I wanted to eventually earn my master’s in social work,” stated Joanne.

I wanted to learn and work in the community and the Wayne State Social Work program provided that. I had no idea at the time that my decision to help others would provide such a meaningful impact on my life.

Joanne Bonds
"I'll always be a Wayne State Warrior in every kind of weather!" - Joanne Bonds

In 1962, Joanne graduated from WSU with her MSW and with her diploma in hand, was ready for a new career as a social worker. “Little did I know what fantastic opportunities would await me and what remarkable people would cross my path.”

Joanne obtained her first position working for Traveler’s Aid at the Detroit Greyhound Bus Station. Traveler’s Aid was established in 1923 as a service agency for stranded or troubled travelers, young rural women, immigrants, and young children traveling to urban areas.

“Assisting the revolving door of stranded travelers, veterans needing services, homeless individuals, and young children needing safe travel were but of a few of the individuals and situations I encountered while at Traveler’s Aid.”

With guidance from a very positive and supportive mentor and supervisor, Agnes Jackson, Joanne worked closely with Detroit’s homeless and transient populations, providing a hand-up not handout approach to support services. While at Traveler’s Aid Joanne had her first two children and went on to have a set of twins, which put a temporary hold on her career.

Wanting to spend more time raising her children, Joanne worked as a stay-at-home mom for 12 years. “A class at WSU sparked my interest in returning to the field, so I accepted a position at a local senior center. This was one of the smartest career decisions I made.” The senior center on Grand River was a lively environment, to say the least, with engaging clients whose strength and zest for life were inspiring. The center offered food, transportation, friendship, outings, art classes, a choir, and a grief group, which Joanne founded. “There was one particular member of the group who had lost three adult children and when she did not show up one day, I reached out to her. It turns out she had lost her fourth and last living child. She was in her 70’s and she had an amazing outlook on life. She had tremendous faith in God and great support from her church. To this day, it reminds me of the incredible resiliency of the human heart and how one can overcome unimaginable hurdles to still see life as beautiful.”

The senior center provided a sense of belonging and purpose for many of our clients. We had quite a few of Detroit’s musical greats walk through the door including Uncle Jessie and his 29th Street Band, Alberta Adams, the Queen of the Blues Juanita Macrae, Marcus Belgrave, and even Stevie Wonder. I will never forget the joy of seeing the room light up as everyone sang and danced at these amazing events.

After 10 years at the senior center, Joanne moved to Hannan House, now known as Hannan Center, to help run their community programs aimed at enhancing the quality of life for older adults in Detroit. One person that she remembers fondly from the Hannan House was Chris Goldberg. Chris started the program at Hannon House and was an incredible mentor to Joanne both professionally and personally. “Chris was a Wayne State grad, as well as her husband, who she met at WSU. Working with Chris to create a program at Hannan Center from the ground up was instrumental in advancing my career. I will be forever grateful for her guidance and the lessons learned in such a ‘hustle and bustle’ environment.”

As a licensed social worker, Joanne also worked as the field instructor for WSU and surrounding university social work students placed at Hannan Center. She found this experience the most rewarding as she learned so much from the students. She would always advise her students to keep an open mind and continue to learn from every situation.

Helping train the next generation of social workers to work with older adults, who are such a vital part of our Detroit ecosystem was extremely gratifying. I always told my students how important it is to recognize how much we still have to learn and always keep an open mind. I learned a lot from my clients, colleagues and students. I am so appreciative of the guidance and support I received from the field education staff at Wayne State during this time.

Joanne is quite busy during her retirement. She continues to be active with the wonderful Detroit Parkinson Group and keeps up with former clients from the Hannan Center. Walking and pilates ensure she moves several times a week, and she dutifully practices the piano daily. Joanne says her clients taught her everything she needs to know about aging and living a fulfilling life!!

Although the campus has changed, including its size and the now long walks to buildings, for Joanne it will always be home. “I am so proud to call myself a Wayne State Social Work Warrior and even more elated that my daughter has taken on the call to help others. Social Workers are a vital part of the community and impact every facet of our lives. I am grateful that I was able to be one such person in Detroit. The City of Detroit has such a special place in my heart, I was born and raised in the city, married in the city, educated in the city and always worked in the city.”

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