Hope and Grace

interview by Hugo Bravo

Katina Polemenako, a social worker at The Salvation Army North Shore Corps in Salem, Mass., talks about the role prayer plays in social work, how the Army honored her late mother, and why her love of both country and community are inextricably linked. 

Social workers are like detectives, always trying to see what’s hiding underneath the surface. After college, I started my social work career for the Army in my hometown of Beverly, Mass. Occasionally, I would work at North Shore church in Salem. I took cases and conducted programs until they said I was needed there full time. In social work, I have to be direct with the people about their situation and how we can help. There are organizations that say, “We’ll see what we can do for you.” But then after weeks of waiting, they finally say, “Sorry, we can’t do anything for you.” I think that’s so unfair. If I ever must tell you, “I can’t help you,” I’m also going to find someone who can. 

Every Salvation Army pastor who served in Salem has taught me something new and made me more in tune with who I am in the eyes of God. I always knew that God is watching us, but before working here, I didn’t know how it felt to have true faith that I am cared for and protected by Him. This faith also carries over to the work I do. In a lot of social work agencies, you can just be a number. I know that’s because of the volume of people they help, but I don’t want anyone who comes to us to ever feel like a number. They’re real people with real feelings. If we can give them a smile, a kind word, or an extra moment of our time, it can mean the world to them. 

God is hope. When I pray for someone, that’s me hoping that person’s life changes for the better. I pray with the hope that, despite not being perfect, I’ll get through another day and figure it all out with God, the only One who is perfect. This mindset has helped me a lot in social work. I’ve prayed with people who needed to know that we care for them in their situation. In this work, it can be overwhelming to feel so much emotion. I’m not always as positive as I want to be. But when things get hard, I take a step back and say to God, “Yeah, we’ve got this.” 

I was always taught to help others, especially the veterans. My dad, my husband, and several of my uncles were vets. In fact, the Herman A. Spear American Legion Post 331 in Beverly, Mass., was named after my uncle, who died at Pearl Harbor. Respecting our country and the principles of being an American were ingrained in my family. The idea that we should always build others up and never down is still how I go about my life today. 

Read more from the latest issue of SAconnects.