Story by Jasmine Fain. Photos by Cyndi Brown.
When you hear the words social and worker together, you might envision Cobra Bubbles. Cobra’s character in the movie Lilo and Stitch wore all black like a CIA agent, and threatened to take Lilo from her sister Nani. When our society speaks about social work, this can be the stereotype that comes to the surface, and the word can bring fear into peoples homes. As a community leader and social worker, Verna Jones, is working to embody the opposite, as she sheds more light on the positive impact that social work makes in a community.
Verna Jones’ story began with a college advisor who suggested that she should pursue social work. “I started at Eastfield College, and after enrollment and a few classes, I decided to pursue an associate degree in Social Work and Substance Abuse,” explains Verna. “Gloria Jackson, from Eastfield College, was a mentor who helped to keep me focused. When it came time to continue my education, she was instrumental in helping me make the decisions to take my education to a higher level.”
Gloria encouraged Verna to continue her education in a master’s level program. Verna says, “Once I earned my bachelor’s degree, she called me up and said, ‘Well, what about a master’s degree in social work?’ I had no intentions of obtaining a master’s degree when I started my social work educational journey.” Though she never intended to, Verna committed herself to do the work that will truly make an impact everyday. As she explains her work, Verna’s passion for her field is clear, sharing about the ways social work promotes community change, development, cohesion, and the empowerment of individual people.
With experience leading a long-term transitional housing program at the Housing Crisis Center, as well as a veteran supportive housing program, Verna is now co-founder and executive director at Under 1 Roof, a nonprofit focused on providing safe, affordable housing and the tools for people facing homelessness to become self reliant. “Under 1 Roof goes the extra mile for the homeless population by providing a continuum of housing and prevention services,” says Verna. “Our goal is to ensure self-sufficiency. To bring that vision into reality, we provide permanent supportive housing to the homeless population in Dallas and Collin Counties.”
Under 1 Roof has housed 575 households since 2011, and is currently tasked with housing 150 homeless households, including 100 individuals and 50 families, through a partnership with the City of Dallas Office of Homeless Solutions.
The driving factor behind Verna’s work and her determination to create change at the individual and community level circles back to her education and deep care for people. “I’m proud to be a social worker,” Verna says. “I feel like you have to be able to provide empathy and compassion.”
But one experience in particular changed Verna’s perspective. “Two of my case managers and I walked into a housing unit, where we met with a little boy. I asked him, ‘Is there anything that you want?’ and the child said to me, ‘I want sheets.’” Verna pauses, then says, “I thought he might ask for a toy—anything but sheets. So I went the extra mile and bought him sheets, pillows, a comforter, and decorated his room, and while in the process of doing this I realized that every child needs this in order for them to function in school, they need a safe place. The least I can do is make sure that this child has the necessities to feel safe.”
Verna’s commitment to the children she serves has the power to change the narrative around social work and homelessness, bringing forward the need for empathy and ensuring that members of our community are not neglected as they face struggles in life. Verna Jones reminds us that we all are like this little boy at times, simply needing a safe place to lay our head, and someone to remind us that we are protected.
If you would like to learn more about how you can support Under 1 Roof, visit their website at under1roofdallas.org.