By Nicole Genc

Interning with the Supplemental Security Income (SSI)/Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) Outreach, Access, and Recovery (SOAR) Technical Assistance (TA) Center at Policy Research Associates (PRA) as a social work intern has been one of the highlights of my first year as a master social work student. Learning about SSI and SSDI gave me a new perspective and illuminated how benefits for eligible individuals are a vital part of their well-being and how benefits can improve local communities.

I did not realize the magnitude of PRA, which is composed of approximately 65 employees. Nine are from the SAMHSA SOAR TA Center, and they are making an incredible impact nationwide. I am honored to have had the opportunity to be a part of the SOAR team.

The tools, knowledge, and resources I learned from my internship were invaluable. I learned how SSI/SSDI has the possibility to bridge an individual’s financial gap of medical bills, housing, and sources of nutrition. These benefits have the potential to relieve a person’s financial burdens and assist them as they navigate their disability.

The core part of my internship was the SOAR Online Course—wow. In the adult course, I was able to dive right into understanding the complex parts of SSI/SSDI, along with completing an interactive component with a practice client. After successfully completing the SOAR Online Course, I was part of the cohort that attended the virtual SOAR Leadership Academy, which was epic. The facilitators were able to present, review, and gather all participants to make the course bloom through interactive activities to apply our understanding of SSI/SSDI benefits to assist people in the future.

The continued support of the SAMHSA SOAR TA Center does not stop after Leadership Academy. New SOAR practitioners are invited to attend four meetings called “SOARing to Success: Completing Your First SOAR-Assisted SSI/SSDI Application,” and the SOAR TA Center hosts “SOARing Over Lunch” each month. SOARing Over Lunch walks through questions from SOAR practitioners and provides answers from the SOAR experts.

Since the SAMHSA SOAR TA Center services states nationwide, I was able to attend state meetings and see how individual states are embracing the SOAR model to serve and improve their communities. I see the value of having SOAR in each state, along with a SOAR State and Local Lead, which helps the state stay on top of the SOAR model and training resources that the SAMHSA SOAR TA Center provides.

After the SOAR Online Course Reviewer Training, I was able to review SOAR Online Course practice applications from various states. I applied the knowledge learned and provided feedback on strengths and/or improvements to help individuals successfully complete the SOAR Online Course.

This was an amazing internship that left me full to be able to apply what I learned in my social work practice and help others. My social work internship with the SOAR TA Center helped me grow personally and professionally in so many important ways. Thank you!