Iona social worker Leland Kiang manages, and frequently answers, Iona’s free Helpline. Staffed by social workers every weekday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., the Information & Referral Helpline was set up to answer common — and uncommon — questions and to refer callers to services and programs in our area.
Leland, who has a master’s in social work from Catholic University, worked as an Iona case manager before taking over the Helpline in 2008. The job, says Leland, is part social worker, part resource librarian.
In honor of Social Worker Month this March, we want to celebrate members of Iona’s team, like Leland, who dedicate their lives to serving the community each and every day.
Last year, Iona social workers answered more than 3,000 calls to our Helpline. Most of the questions came from caregivers — spouses, adult children, close friends, and professionals — but some came from older adults interested in resources for themselves. Callers represent the spectrum of income levels. During the recession, there was an increase in inquiries related to financial support.
Today, many people are looking for affordable housing. Callers also want to know about accessible and affordable transportation services, home care services, government benefits, and home-delivered meals.
“Our job is to sort out where the need is,” Leland says. “If the caller is anxious, I let her vent, which gives me time to figure out how I can help.”
Questions run the gamut. Are callers trying to find out if Medicare pays for long-term care? How to support a parent who is being discharged from the hospital? How to help a family member who is depressed or socially isolated? Leland frequently refers callers to Iona’s team of experts, which includes case managers, social workers, and a dietician, among others.
Leland’s affinity for working with older adults stems from his relationship with his grandmother. In a first-person account for The Washington Post, he said, “My grandmother helped raise me, so ‘seniors’ have never seemed like some ‘other’ group. My grandmother was a very, very strong, capable woman, and I got to see that strength. She was the primary caregiver to my grandfather, lifting him and being his support.
From a young age, I had the realization that just because you age doesn’t mean your capacity diminishes. Your needs may increase or change, but that shouldn’t be a stigma. I don’t see getting older as meaning you’re less vital.”
Asked how his work has influenced thoughts about his own aging, Leland points out that he has the privilege of witnessing both the challenges and the rewards of aging. “I’ve seen a lot of courage and resiliency,” he says.
You can read more from Leland in The Washington Post Magazine’s First Person Singular Interview originally published on March 11, 2014.