Before Jimmy Salyers (Class of 2020) decided to pursue a career in social work, he had an experience with one that basically saved his life.
Growing up in Johnson County, Salyers joined the United States Army National Guard as a combat engineer, completing an eight-year contract. After his contract was up, he soon developed mental health issues.
Later, a severe drug addiction.
Lived through a suicide attempt.
Following the attempt, he ended up in a psychiatric center and encountered a Kentucky social worker.
“That individual explained to me that if I chose to, I never had to use drugs again and could learn to cope with my mental health issues and regain a sense of normalcy in my life,” Salyers said. “I have managed to remain clean since that encounter and I am working on year eight of managing my mental health issues. That encounter is what sparked my desire to pay it forward and become the person on the other side of the desk.”
After initially attending Big Sandy Community and Technical College, a professor highly recommended MSU’s social work program. He chose to enroll closer to home at MSU at Prestonsburg and said the classroom environment was one where he thrived by being both challenged and supported.
“You were made to feel like you could ask anything. The professors there always encouraged us to ask questions and to learn in the safe environment of the school, reminding us that it was better to make mistakes in the classroom than in practice,” Salyers said.
Salyers said his practicum placements helped him gain invaluable practical experience. In one of his practicums, he was with the National Association of Social Workers (NASW) Kentucky Chapter. This led to his election to its board of directors and taking a leadership role as the chairman of the Legislative and Advocacy Committee.
“This allowed us to practice the skills we were learning in the classroom in the real world. Each week, we would meet in the classroom to discuss obstacles, conflicts, and things we learned in practice. We received real feedback about situations and were given the guidance needed to be successful,” he said. “Giving us that opportunity to learn real-world experiences in a safe environment promoted confidence while building the skills necessary to become an effective social worker.”
“The most fulfilling part of this field is when you get to see someone walk through the door, possibly having the worst day of their life, and over time learn the skills necessary to regain their power and sense of purpose. If I can help just one person regain their purpose, it will all be worth it.”Jimmy Salyers
Salyers was also involved in helping people outside the classroom. He was elected as the president of the Student Association of Social Work Students for the Prestonsburg campus. In this position, he helped organize dinners for homeless veterans, bought Christmas gifts for foster children, held water drives to aid those affected by the Martin County water crisis in 2019 and volunteered with the Build-A-Bed program to provide beds for children, among other community fundraisers.
Salyers also reached out beyond the MSU service region. He was one of more than 100 students in MSU’s social work program to take their concerns and voice to Frankfort for Social Work Lobby Day in March 2020. He also testified before the House Health and Family Services Committee, voicing his opposition to House Bill 1, which would increase restrictions on how recipients can spend public assistance and SNAP benefits.
“Being in a place that real change happens gives you a sense of purpose and power. Being able to address the entire rotunda was amazing and an experience I will not soon forget. It was terrifying to testify in front of the Health and Family Services Committee, but I knew that my words and testimony stood a chance to enrich the lives of those we serve. That outweighed all my fear,” he said. “The house bill being introduced was going to create more barriers for those in my community and could have had a direct impact on my own life. I have always been told to let people hear my inner macro voice and this was my opportunity. If I did not stand up for those we serve, who would?”
After earning a Bachelor of Social Work (BSW) with a minor in Chemical Dependency from MSU in 2020, he worked as a targeted case manager and now as a Temporary Certified Alcohol and Drug Counselor (TDADC). He continued his education, graduating with a Master of Social Work (MSW) from the University of Kentucky (UK) in May 2020.
“The thing I appreciate the most after graduation is the level of knowledge and skills that you receive while at Morehead. I am constantly telling people if they want to earn a BSW that Morehead is the best route to take,” Salyers said. “We were set up for success and honestly, it has helped me more than anything while completing my MSW at UK. The professors pour themselves into the curriculum and constantly remind you to ‘be a consumer of your education,’ meaning that you get out what you put into the program.”
Salyers goals are now to earn a Licensed Clinical Social Work (LCSW) certification and begin doing independent services while also stating he will “never fully leave the micro field, but I also plan to be much more active in the macro.” He said he hopes more passionate and qualified social workers continue to graduate from MSU and help make a positive impact in the University’s service region and the state. In the meantime, he plans to advocate for those in need.
“I have always been a fighter, first the war on terrorism and now advocacy. I had a client sum up my career so far that still makes me emotional thinking about it. They stated that for the first part of my adult life, I spent my time taking the lives of other individuals. Now I am granted the opportunity to give that life back. There is not a day that goes by that I do not think of that client and what they said to me,” Salyers said. “It has sparked a passion and fire inside of me and has impacted me in ways that I doubt they even realize. It has driven me to continue to fight and advocate on behalf of others that do not have the opportunity to do so. Advocacy is not just a passion for me. It is a mission.”
One of the many reasons that Salyers is so driven to be a successful social worker is that he knows what it feels like to need the services social workers provide and how life-changing their words, services, and support can be. As long as he is in this profession, he plans to return the favor.
For more information about MSU’s social work programs, visit www.moreheadstate.edu/study/socialwork.