Greg Shoff has had more than a little experience helping people.
A military veteran, Shoff served six years with the U.S. Coast Guard in places such as Florida, Mississippi, Oregon and Washington, often providing disaster relief after hurricane season, helping to rebuild schools and community centers, or assisting mobile medical teams with setting up clinics.
Often, Shoff found himself working with at-risk or troubled youth from families in hard-hit communities, showing them “how to use certain tools, to look out for someone else and connect with that community instead of feel [pushed] away,” he said.
“You recognize that communities need an extra hand with youth at times, and a few of us would always link up with the kids and work to show them what it means to give back,” he said.
Shoff never expected to do what he calls “the humanitarian side” of social work in the Coast Guard, but his passion for it led him to pursue a bachelor’s degree in the field, which he will receive Sunday from Keuka College. Along the way, the Penn Yan resident earned a special distinction, receiving a student Social Worker of the Year Award from a regional chapter of the National Association of Social Workers.
Assistant Professor of Social Work Jen Mealey nominated Shoff for the honor this spring, commending him for his integrity, service and social justice, empathy toward others, and the academic prowess which puts him in the top 3 percent of Keuka social work students. The NASW award, which Shoff received in March, recognizes social work students across the Genesee region who have made significant contributions in the field.
According to Mealey, Shoff understands the meaning of service at a deep level, and is often the first to offer assistance in difficult situations. He advocates for the disenfranchised, including seniors, children and veterans, builds relationships in a natural way, and is a comfort to those around him.
Calling him “a bright star in the social work universe,” Mealey explained that Shoff “listens and offers his undivided attention to those he is communicating with. Greg understands that being a social worker means participating in the suffering of other human beings. He holds each individual he interacts with in high regard.”
To that end, Shoff has spent much of his final semester working almost full-time at Pathways, Inc, in Elmira, and putting in another 32 hours a week at Hillside Children’s Center outside Romulus, for his senior practicum placement.
At Pathways, Shoff works with boys ranging in age from 5-18, building practical life skills, such as communicating with others, handling money or making a budget, and practicing manners at home. According to Shoff, group activities such as field trips are a common way that the boys, many of whom are identified as severely emotionally disturbed, can learn how to develop better skills interacting with their peers in social settings.
During his practicum at Hillside, a residential treatment center that also provides schooling, Shoff has worked in the critical care unit with teens in crisis. If they haven’t discovered the kind of environment they need, social workers like Shoff will help them to recognize their needs and wants, and teach how to better their behavior.
In addition to his work at both service centers, Shoff has also spent a significant portion of his five semesters at Keuka working as a facilitator for Teamworks!, an adventure training program that builds teamwork and practical skills on Keuka’s own ropes course. The unique environment there has set Shoff on the path to his ultimate social work goal: adventure therapy.
“I don’t want to be just a counselor or clinician—I want to work in a different environment, more hands-on, to let [clients] express themselves in different ways,” Shoff said. “I do want to work with youth, but there are adults that can benefit from the same therapy.”
According to Shoff, grad school is also on the horizon, and probably sooner, rather than later.
While the NASW award was an honor for him, Shoff was quick to share the limelight, describing how the eight social work seniors support each other through teamwork, ideas, classes, and lots of hard work.
He added: “It’s more about the professors and my classmates than an award just for me.”