Voices from the Field: Setting Goals and Celebrating Success
Voices from the Field: A Blog Series
Setting Goals and Celebrating Success
At the beginning of each year, Laura Schmid-Pizzato writes out goals she has for herself. She typically approaches the list with professional aspirations in mind. For most of her career in clinical social work, Schmid-Pizzato has worked for Southwest Counseling Services in Sweetwater County, Wyo. For the past 20 years, she has served as the manager for the agency’s recovery services. “In earlier days, I would write out goals like, ‘I really want to become an expert at treatment of sexual abuse survivors.’ Or, ‘I want expertise in treating people addicted to methamphetamines,’” she said.
Regardless of the techniques or treatments she aspires to master, Schmid-Pizzato writes with the intent of growth. As a manager, growth is a concept she brings to her employees during annual performance reviews. She prompts them to look inward and ask, “What are your goals for the next year? Where are the areas in which you want to grow?”
When Schmid-Pizzato recently looked back at what she wrote in January of 2020, she was surprised by how differently she approached what had become a standard exercise in her decades-long vocation. “When I set out my goals last year, they had to do with learning how to better understand where my staff was coming from,” Schmid-Pizzato recalled. “I wrote that I wanted to learn how to fully support my staff, so they could achieve the best outcomes for our clients.”
Throughout the ensuing months of the COVID-19 pandemic, “It was a goal that I was reminded of again and again,” she said.
With multiple facilities in Rock Springs, Wyo., including one in nearby Green River, Southwest Counseling Services is a comprehensive community mental health and substance abuse treatment center serving an area lining Wyoming’s southern border. The residential substance abuse services that Schmid-Pizzato manages have statewide reach. On site, there are 100 beds across a number of group homes dedicated to the recovery of those suffering from substance abuse disorders as well as mental health conditions, many times in combination.
The outset of the pandemic, naturally, posed a great deal of questions to Schmid-Pizzato and her team. How would they quarantine someone for 10 to 14 days in a bedroom, who is perhaps going through withdrawals, or is diagnosed with schizophrenia?
“We’re having to quarantine people who may be going through a form of psychosis or paranoia, yet we’re trying to tell them that everything’s okay while wearing a mask, a face shield, and at times gowns,” Schmid-Pizzato said.
And while that challenge became obvious, it became difficult to keep staff members reassured, as well. Many staff under Schmid-Pizzato’s charge are 65 and older. Many also have medical conditions readily compromised by a virus such as COVID-19. The questions of safety and transparency continue to ring through the manager’s mind, but the way her team tackled those questions throughout 2020 helped her exceed any and all goals she might have written back in January.
“This last year has confirmed to me why I’m in this line of work,” Schmid-Pizzato said. “My sense of purpose has been in helping people help others, and we’ve been able to create an environment and staff that can have a tremendous impact on our clients and our community.”
Schmid-Pizzato was able to get her group into Zoom early on, right as the web-conferencing service was swelling in demand. Employees generously brought their own laptops and tablets to work, to be able to connect with clients living on-site and beyond. Schmid-Pizzato worked with her team to establish who should be working from home, and how often. She immediately saw resilience in her employees for what they were willing to do to help those in need.
“Their resilience is that we’re in the middle of a pandemic, and for some of them getting the virus could be a death threat,” she remarked. “I started to see everyone through their own struggles, fears, family situations, and I put myself in a position of understanding and support for them.”
Early into the pandemic, personal protective equipment was nearly impossible to come by, and the substance abuse recovery team couldn’t source anything from the agency’s medical clinic. Employees and on-site clients desperately needed masks, at the very least. That’s when Schmid-Pizzato and a number of employees took it upon themselves to learn how to make them.
“I’ve made about 600 masks,” she said. “I have a system down at this point, and I can crank out about 50 to 70 in an hour. They’re not fancy, but they’re made of cloth and reusable. The masks we made got us through the early days.”
And Schmid-Pizzato was doing this while essentially working two full-time jobs, “I had my regular job, and I had my COVID job,” she said. “I would go home and read for hours about what the virus was doing and what we could do about it.”
Since those early days of the pandemic, Schmid-Pizzato’s situation has stabilized as the virus becomes better understood and she doesn’t feel the need to continuously sew masks. But, in addition to all that she’s learned about more personally managing her staff, she learned about what her own well-being requires. In her flurry of research and policy-crafting around COVID-19, Schmid-Pizzato learned that increased exposure to information can lead to increased anxiety, as well as misinformation. Social media, in particular, needed to take a back seat when it came to information about the pandemic.
“I have really stressed to my staff that when they’re upset about things that are happening, they have 100 percent control on what and who they’re engaging with, most of the time,” Schmid-Pizzato said.
Over time, she shifted her social media feeds to zero in on her hobbies and interests. An avid gardener, she said her pages these days are covered in flowers, vegetables and nature. The change of focus was a useful lesson in personal control. “You have control over what you’re consuming and what you’re putting your personal time into, so take time to understand what’s in your control, and be grateful for those opportunities,” she said.
Even though Schmid-Pizzato is in a position to guide people through perhaps the toughest times of their lives, the circumstances of the pandemic taught her the importance of embracing positivity and celebrating all things contributing to a more positive outlook, workplace, and personal well-being. “I’ve been trying to focus on the fact that in pretty much any situation there are positives to be recognized, and that there is growth to be had,” she said.
Now, more than ever, she loves coming to work. Though the problem-solving needs have been intense throughout the pandemic, Schmid-Pizzato has found ways to make it a fun pursuit for her and her team. Whether finding substitutions for hand-sanitizer or searching for activities for clients quarantining in group homes, she’s finding ways to progress in her professional and personal goals.
“We have a rule around here that when something new happens, either with a client or a situation, you have to come tell me,” she said. “We make sure to celebrate whenever and however we can."
“In coming up with best practices, we were trying things that nobody else had done before. We have been learning, trying our best, and learning from failures to find what works. It’s an experience that’s enhanced my sense of purpose and where my passions are.”