Shelley Walker, director of social work, always looks for the positive in every situation. She believes that people have the capacity to change, adapt to their circumstances and better themselves. It’s one of the reasons she wanted to become a hospital social worker. Early in her career, Shelley worked with a social worker who made an impact on her. That encounter affected Shelley so much that she also wanted to help improve people’s lives.
At Akron Children’s Hospital, Shelley has had many opportunities to make a difference as an activist and advocate for children. Besides hands-on care working with acute and chronically ill children and their families, Shelley has helped to develop programs that address the issues that kids face, including violence, mental health issues, mistreatment and abuse.
On Oct. 31, Shelley retires after 42 years at Children’s. She looks forward to traveling, visiting her twin daughters, exercising and cooking with her husband.
What brought you to Children’s?
After graduating from college with a sociology degree, I worked as a parole and probation officer in St. Louis. My husband, who was from Akron, attended graduate school and when he finished, we moved here. Although Hal Lipton, social worker director, hired me, I had another connection to Children’s. My father-in-law, Dr. Lewis Walker, for whom the Lewis H. Walker, MD, Cystic Fibrosis Center is named, was a pediatric allergist. Through him, our extended family in Akron grew, and includes Dr. Rajeev Kishore, pediatric allergist and immunologist, Neeta Kishore and their family members.
Have you always worked in the same department and role?
I’ve always worked in the social work department. As a social worker, I worked in the primary care continuity clinic, the cystic fibrosis center, the emergency department and with the craniofacial team. I also worked in the family recovery center as a therapist for sexual abuse victims.
After working several years, I pursued a social work master’s degree at Case Western Reserve University using Children’s tuition reimbursement program. I worked full time, attended day classes and did my internship at Children’s.
As our department grew, from 8 people when I started to 76 now, I took on more supervisory and leadership roles, including opportunities to mentor graduate students, pediatric residents and my teammates. In 2012, I became the director of the social work department.
What have your biggest contributions been while here?
We’ve added more social work service lines to serve patients and their families and developed programs such as the Children at Risk Evaluation (CARE) Center for sexually abused children and teens. Additionally, I participated in Children’s primary care training program federal grant from which the curriculum for the developmental-behavioral pediatrics program for our pediatric residents evolved. I was involved with that program for 30 years, coordinating conferences, retreats and activities to help ensure our pediatric residents receive a well-rounded education.
How has Akron Children’s changed since you started here?
In 1977, we employed few physicians and had about 5,000 fewer employees. By employing physicians, we’ve increased our primary and subspecialty care. We’re more inclusive of families, too, because of our family-centered care philosophy and other initiatives.
What gave you the most satisfaction at work?
Professionally, it’s knowing that the work we do at Children’s is important. That work is one reason I’m receiving a Lifetime Achievement Award from Region 2 of the Ohio chapter of the National Association of Social Workers on Jan. 8, 2020. For me personally, it’s the many deep friendships I’ve made at Children’s.
What’s your idea of a perfect day?
Great food, cool weather, a beautiful setting and hanging with family.
Do you have any advice for people just starting at Children’s?
Avoid drama, and always remember how privileged we are to care for our patients and their families.
What couldn’t you live without?
I could live without them, but dark chocolate and red wine make life better.
What music do you like? Where and how do you listen to it?
Classical, rock and jazz top my list. I go to Blossom Music Center, BLU Jazz+ and Akron Civic Theatre to hear live music. Otherwise, it’s the radio in my car or at home.
What’s the last book your read?
“Becoming” by Michelle Obama
What’s the last movie you saw?
Not one, but all 8 of the 2019 Oscars Best Picture nominees!
What do you like to do when you’re not at work?
I love to garden and take great pride in my flowers. I’ve won 3 Fairlawn Beautification Awards.