Social Work: A Great Encore Career

Sylvia Abrego-Araiza offers compassion and hope as a drug and alcohol youth counselor in McAllen, Texas.

If you’re tired of pushing papers at a desk, social work may be an appealing encore career. It offers the opportunity to get out and connect with people and make a difference in their lives.

Social work is demanding and not high paid, but, writes Lindsay Zoladz on AARP.com, jobs are expected to increase in the field at least through 2016.

Sylvia Abrego-Araiza, 52, discovered social work was the right career for her after a series of what she terms “bad choices” in her life that left her estranged from her family and hopping from job to job, trying to make ends meet for herself and her two sons.

In 1997, after her second marriage ended, she moved back to Texas to reconnect with her family and enrolled in an Associate of Applied Science program in social work. Although the classes were a challenge, she told AARP.org, “It was like therapy for me. I was starting to unravel some things in my life that I had kept inside for so long, and there was a big part of me that needed to heal.”

Today Abrego-Araiza works as a counselor for a nonprofit called Serving Children and Adolescents in Need in southwest Texas that provides social services for at-risk youths. Working with teens involved in gangs and drugs, many of whom have been convicted of violent crimes, she isn’t fearful. “I aim to reach them with ... love, understanding, compassion, which is maybe something they’ve never have had before,” she says. “Inside of each and every one of us there is that potential, there is that ability, there is that gift that needs to be unwrapped and developed.”

Success to her is “pouring yourself into what you have a passion for doing and basically changing the world one individual at a time.”

Watch a video of Sylvia Abrego-Araiza and learn more about her on AARP.com.

Read more about careers in social work on AARP.com.