After Years Spent Working with Soldiers and Veterans, Joy Returns to the Classroom

A first-year student at the University of Arkansas Clinton School of Public Service, Julie Joy earned an undergraduate degree in sociology from Clark University before earning her master’s degree in clinical social work from the Smith School for Social Work.

Joy spent the past three years as a behavioral health officer in the Maine Army National Guard, working with soldiers coping with mental health issues. As an M-Day officer, she was on site for National Guard weekends and training days. Her work experience also includes eight years with the Veterans Healthcare System in Arkansas and five years with the Maine Veterans Affairs. Additionally, Joy spent time as a relief house parent to adolescent mothers and adolescents in the Massachusetts welfare system.

Joy’s public service interests include combat veteran community reintegration and military family support to facilitate healing and recovery.

How did you find out about the Clinton School?

I lived in Little Rock from 2009 through 2012, right after I got a master’s degree in clinical social work. I came down here for a fellowship at the VA, and while I was working there I took a second job as a waitress at Forty Two, the restaurant in the Clinton Presidential Library. As part of that job we did catering events in Sturgis Hall.

We catered an event that was a reception for the Clinton School, and I ended up meeting a lot of the students and just chatting with them. I had just gotten a master’s degree, though, so school wasn’t really on my mind. Then, about one year ago, it kind of came back on my radar when I was here in Little Rock visiting friends, and the timing just seemed right.

How did you establish your public service interests?

For the last eight years, I’ve been working for the Veteran’s Healthcare Administration. Specifically, working with veterans who are receiving services in hospital settings and in clinic settings for mental health problems. After doing that for quite a while, I became frustrated with some of the gaps in connecting veterans to services that existed. There are a lot of great services, including services through the VA and services through community providers, but sometimes it’s difficult for veterans to get to those services, in part because it’s really difficult to talk about your combat situation with someone you don’t know.

Some of the barriers were internal barriers, barriers that people were grappling with in their head. Some of the barriers were that recently returned combat veterans didn’t know about all the services that were available. That became a bigger thing in my mind, and I became more interested in helping connect people to services, then actually providing the services myself. I came here to really learn more about developing programs and evaluating programs and to get kind of a bigger picture view so that I can better serve veterans and their families, too.

What barriers have you encountered through your work?

I think the hardest thing for me to deal with is the mental health stigma that still exists in the military setting and among veterans. Sometimes folks recognize that they need some help in their life but they’ve learned through their military experience that asking for help is viewed as a possible sign of weakness or not being a strong soldier, so that’s a difficulty I’ve seen many times over the course of my years at the VA and in the Army National Guard. The military is working on that, in lots of different ways, but it’s still a pretty serious problem.

Can you tell us a little about your experience so far with the Ronald McDonald Practicum team? What you are excited about moving forward?

The Ronald McDonald House partnership is exciting because we are the first team to work with that organization. The staff at the organization are very clear about what they’re looking for from us. We’ve been able to work closely with the supervisors there doing an organization needs assessment, and a kind of family needs assessment. Those are the pieces of the project we’re working on as graduate student consultants this academic year. We are assessing if and how the organization may choose to expand their reach to more families of critically-ill children. We’re just getting started with the research component of our project and we’re feeling good about the way it’s moving forward so far.

What does it mean to be a relief parent?

When I was in college at Clark University, in western Massachusetts, I got a scholarship called the Making a Difference Scholarship. Part of my scholarship was that I was to stay in western Massachusetts during one summer and do a community service project of my choosing. I partnered with an organization called YOU, Inc. — it stands for Youth Opportunities Upheld, Inc., and it is a local social service provider. They work with kids in the foster care system, and one of the programs they have is a shelter program for teen mothers and their children.

I started working with them as a volunteer. After that summer volunteer commitment was up, I worked with them as a paid, part-time worker being a relief house parent. There were two shelter locations and each one had a houseparent – a grown-up person with experience as a mother who lived there and oversaw the care of the teenagers and their babies. One weekend every two months or so the houseparent would get the weekend off and go somewhere, and I would stay in their apartment unit and take care of the moms and the kids. I kind of filled in as a parent in that capacity. I would also do some overnight shifts here and there.

Why did you recommend Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day?

It’s a story about a little boy who goes through a typical day in his life, but all day long things are going wrong for him. He doesn’t get the seat he wants going to school in the morning, he doesn’t get the lunch he wants, he doesn’t even get the cereal he wants. Everything goes wrong all day long, and he’s really negative about it and tells himself he’s going to move to Australia because things will be good in Australia.

Then, at the end of the day he comes to realize that some days are just terrible, horrible, no good, very bad, and that even in Australia some days are like that. To me, it’s really about accepting things as they are, learning to cope with what life throws at you, and realizing that some days are like that. It doesn’t mean anything about your family, where you live, or who you are, but to kind of roll with the punches. Even though it’s a children’s book, probably intended for six-year-olds, I think it’s a good life lesson and a good reminder of how we can choose our attitudes every day.

You said you first moved to Little Rock in 2009. What did you know or expect at that time?

By the time I was 28, I had gone to college in Massachusetts, moved to Jackson Hole, Wyoming, for a year, started grad school in Ann Arbor, Michigan, and then moved again to Massachusetts for grad school. As part of grad school, I had a one-year internship in western Massachusetts and a one-year internship on Long Island, New York. Then I moved to Arkansas.

Arkansas was the first time I had lived in the South, but I had the advantage that my dad had been living in Eureka Springs for five years at the point that I moved to Little Rock. I had visited Eureka Springs in northwest Arkansas, but I hadn’t been to Little Rock before I interviewed here and moved here for that job at the VA.

I think that Arkansas and Little Rock are a lot like Maine in a lot of ways, actually. It’s beautiful here. It’s “The Natural State,” and we call ourselves “The Pine Tree State” in Maine, and we really try to capitalize on how beautiful it is there and to get people to vacation there because of that.

Arkansas, I think, is a big vacation spot for people all over this region – Oklahoma, Texas, Missouri, Louisiana. A lot of people come here because it’s beautiful and relaxing and green. But, certainly the politics are different down here, and that’s been an adjustment. Overall, I feel like people here are very genuine, like they are overall in Maine— really down-to-earth. I really identify a lot with people here, both people that come to Little Rock from other places but also people who are Arkansans. The adjustment hasn’t been too difficult, just a little bit humid in the summers.

Have you thought about your International Public Service Project?

I’m really interested in going to the Marshall Islands for my IPSP. The Republic of the Marshall Islands is located in Micronesia. The US has been involved in that country since just after World War II, since we decided to set up a nuclear testing plant. We have a big military presence there and there are a lot of different islands that make up the Marshall Islands. Some of them are very rural, and it sounds like a beautiful, unique place.

Unfortunately, it’s going to be one of the first countries that we lose to global warming, because it’s really low-lying and the sea rise is a big problem for them. I want to take this opportunity to go there and experience the culture and help in some way with the enormous obesity and diabetes problem that they have there. They have some of the highest rates of obesity and diabetes in the whole world, so I want to learn what they’re doing and bring some of those programs here to the US where we have a growing problem.

Do you have anything else that you want to add about your Clinton School experience?

Just that I’m really thankful to be at the Clinton School, because there’s no other program that’s quite like this. Here we are able to be a part of a cohort of ambitious, intellectually-curious, like-minded people, and also have opportunities, through the experiential IPSP and Capstone, to grow our interests and expertise.



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