Sonja Stewart joined BCArc as a case manager in 2016, where she supported families as an educational advocate in local school systems. “I wanted to be a better case manager, so I went for my master’s,” she said.
Sonja Stewart is the director of family support and advocacy at Berkshire County Arc (BCArc), based in Pittsfield, Mass., which serves more than 1,000 individuals and their families across the Berkshires. She earned her master’s degree in education from MCLA in 2018, after receiving a bachelor’s in social work from the College of St. Rose in 2014.
Stewart oversees a staff of 27 nurses, case managers, and outreach workers in her roles as director of both the Adult Family Care Program and the Family Support Center. She is one of the youngest people to sit on the agency’s administrative team. In November 2019, she received a statewide award for her leadership in family and individual support.
Growing up in a military family, Stewart moved often, but decided to attend college in Albany, N.Y., where she met her partner of eight years and fell in love with the area. She began working as an intervention supervisor with at-risk males, ages 12-22, who had been involved with the criminal justice system, and spent five years helping to de-escalate situations inside residential facilities.
Stewart joined BCArc as a case manager in 2016, where she supported families as an educational advocate in local school systems. “I wanted to be a better case manager, so I went for my master’s,” she said.
Stewart said she loved her time at MCLA. “I was in the minority in the education program, as I was a social worker who never planned on teaching, but I was able to bring a different perspective to the class. The teachers made the courses work for me and a lot of programs wouldn’t do that.” For her capstone project, she wrote a book of short stories from the point of view of the youth with which she’d worked, describing how they ended up in jail or residential care. “I wanted to bring awareness to young teachers to show what these kids face after the bell rings,” she said.
“Once I achieved my degree, I was promoted and worked on expanding our programs, some of which doubled in size. BCArc recognized what I was doing and I was promoted again. They helped me grow professionally and personally. It’s been the most meaningful four years of my life, and you can see the effect it has on families.”
One of the programs Stewart has helped to grow is the internship program, where three of last year’s five interns were MCLA students.
Although BCArc helps connects people to day programming, employment opportunities, and other resources to make sure they live full, enriched lives, Stewart said it’s not just about services. “It’s figuring out what having a good life means to each person. That could mean throwing a New Year’s Eve party, going to a zoo or white water rafting, seeing a play, putting on a variety show, or just getting coffee every Thursday. Through the individualized support program, people pair up with staff members and we can make their dreams happen.”
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