One of Rebecca Amado-Sprigg’s many attractive qualities is best defined as composed optimism. More a calm assurance, her brand of positivity is shaped by a natural intelligence and emotional maturity tempered by a streak of mischievous teasing. She wears this lovely strength honestly, and it is never more awesomely branded than when she gifts you with what I affectionately refer to as her “Bitch Eye.”
This isn’t a disapproving scowl. Not even close. It is more an assessment, a sizing up of one’s mettle, a convince-me smirk that holds the promise of a full on grin. I’ve witnessed folks that are weak of character digging deep to grow a quick-ass spine when on the receiving end of her impressive grace. If you square up with Rebecca with your own brand of honest backbone and self-reflective humor, you are so in, baby! You best be prepared to become a co-conspirator in her generosity of spirit, easy laughter, knowing accountability, and open heart.
Originally from the small border town of Nogales, Arizona, Rebecca’s career tenure in social work is rooted in California, her adopted home with her husband, Enzo. From her work with homeless families to her current position working with survivors of trafficking, Rebecca squares off daily with monoliths like institutionalized poverty and racism, exploitation, malignant misogyny, slavery, and untreated mental illness. Every day, Rebecca walks into the reality of an estimated 24.9 million trafficked victims worldwide (1.3 of every 1000 people in the Americas are enslaved), as well as over 610,000 homeless folks in the US alone, including one-fifth that are suffering from a severe mental illness, including schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, and severe depression.
Bitch Eye, indeed. Read on and discover one stunning Rebel Beauty.
After 22 years of marriage to your high school sweetheart, what advice would you give for making a successful marriage?
You have to like each other in order to love each other. I think it is really important that you also grow individually as well as a couple. You can’t stunt that growth because, ultimately, you will grow apart.
How did you become involved in a career in social work?
I am a high school graduate and do not have a higher degree. When my husband and I moved to California, I started out as a support staff for an organization called Career Closet. It is an organization that provides low income women with interview clothing and job coaching. Soon, I moved up to Director of Volunteer Services.
I found I had a love of working with clients and supporting them. I wanted to move into a position where I would be able to work with them for a much longer period. So, I applied for a position as a Case Manager at a homeless shelter for families called Shelter Network. I loved working with the clients and helping them transition into permanent housing.
Because I didn’t have a formal education, I felt I needed to make sure that my supervisor knew that I wanted to move up within the organization. When a position for Program Director became available, I applied for it. I didn’t think I would get the position because I had only been at the agency for about 6-7 months. BUT I got it! I worked at Shelter Network for over 8 years until I moved to Los Angeles. Since being in LA, I have worked at St. Joseph Center, Imagine Los Angeles, Upward Bound House, and, currently, at CAST.
What keeps you passionate about this work – what makes it rewarding?
I really found my passion working with the homeless population. I really believe that the career found me. Growing up in a very small town (back in the day) the community was the social workers and food banks. So, I didn’t really know that a career in this field was an option.
When I applied at Career Closet, I was attracted to the mission. Before then, I was forging a career in retail, which I hated. But it was all I knew.
About 4 years ago, I felt I needed to broaden the population that I work with, so I applied for my current position at CAST. I missed working in a shelter setting developing programs.
Tell me a bit more about program development – why did you miss this and what about it makes it satisfying to be back in shelter program development?
Program Development allows you to really take a hard look at the program to see what improvements can be made to help the population you are serving to thrive. It also is exciting to ask for client input to understand what part of the program needs tweaking and what is working for them and what isn’t. It’s what makes the program better and keeps it from becoming stale and so formulaic that, in the end, you are not helping the client at your most optimum level.
What one aspect of social work do you feel has changed you, made you grow as a person?
Hearing the horrific experiences that people have had to live through and, somehow, really pick themselves up, learn to trust again, and become empowered—this has forever changed my perspective.
I admire that they have found their strength and their voice to be the person that they have always known they could be. It’s so inspiring! It really makes you take a hard look at yourself, especially when you haven’t had to go through anything remotely close to what they have.
I am so lucky that I have a supportive loving family and the most amazing husband. I have never been without shelter or food and I have never been abused in any way. So, I have to really hear myself when I complain because it is so minuscule.
You have managed and trained volunteers for mentoring programs that provide direct support to homeless families. In what ways are these programs successful for participants and volunteers – what makes a success story for both?
For the clients, it shows that there are good people in this world that care about them. It is important for them to know that there is still humanity in a world that has abused them and made them feel they were neither cared for nor had a voice.
For volunteers, it helps break the stereotype. So many people have such a negative opinion and judgment. They don’t realize one stroke of bad luck (death, job loss, and mental health) can contribute to homelessness. Many are hardworking people that just can’t seem to get ahead no matter how hard they try. They just need someone to believe in them and support them.
What do you feel the everyday person can do to change their own negative perception of homeless folks to one of shared humanity? Is it just a matter of getting involved?
Talk to them. Ask them their story! VOLUNTEER!!!!!!! Even if you can only do it twice a year. And, I am not talking about just donations. Actually go to an organization and have a conversation. It will change your life for the better, I promise!
What are you hoping Santa brings you for Christmas this year?
A new President and peace to those that are suffering. Other than that, I can honestly say I have everything I need. Love, family, and health.
What is one aspiration you have the New Year and why?
To continue work toward becoming a more evolved and better person. I don’t ever want to stop growing. I also hope that through my work I can help more people become empowered and safe.