By Maureen Halley
Director Marketing Communications, Anna Maria College

For the entire time that Michael Gorman ’15 was a student at Anna Maria College, he would wake up each morning to a text message from his father that began with the number 86,400 – the number of seconds in a day. His dad would always ask him the same thing, which was “what are you going to do to make a difference today?”

For Michael, it was never a question whether he would make a difference in the lives of others; it was in how many different ways. Even before Michael arrived on the Anna Maria campus as a freshman in 2011, he had already founded a service program called The Movement Family (TMF) for the less fortunate in his hometown of Lawrence, MA.

“I am grateful that I grew up in a very loving and supportive family, but there are a lot of people suffering from addiction and homelessness who don’t have that in their lives anymore – or never did in the first place. I wanted to build a community that would provide a safe, supportive ‘second family’ for those people who needed it the very most,” said Michael. He explained that the TMF members began as strangers but now “look amongst each other as brothers and sisters and provide hope to the world.”

When TMF first launched, the program had six members but through its positive reputation for creating a welcoming and supportive place to connect, the number of people served now tops 400. The program centers on a weekly family dinner where members come together as a community; in addition to the meal itself, Michael, a social worker, provides information about addiction and recovery programs, creates a fun social environment with games, and makes donated clothing and books available to members. The weekly dinners are possible through the generosity of restaurants within the Lawrence area.

Because of TMF Family Dinners and the connections made as a result, Michael has helped get 30 people off the streets and into detox programs. In addition, local high schools have sent teams of students to volunteer at the dinners. “St. John’s Prep brought their hockey team; Central Catholic had their basketball team volunteer; and the varsity basketball team from Lawrence High School came out in support of the dinner, too. There was one night in particular that a student from St. John’s sat down with a homeless man and talked for 30 minutes and it was clear that this kid could see the person behind the problem; it was something I’ll never forget and I hope that once the pandemic is over, more connections like that will be made.”

While the pandemic has provided challenges in serving large groups, it has not stopped his service or his continued advocacy for the people of his TMF community. “The dinner is still happening, but we’ve had to switch the delivery from sit-down to grab and go and encourage people to respect social distancing. We have had some amazing support for TMF; people have been making masks for distribution and have continued donating food for our members. Before COVID-19, we were providing dinner to an average of 60 people, and would spend the evening together. We would play board games, have rap battles, use poetry to express pain, and have a lot of meaningful conversation. Now, the number is lower – it has to be.”

In addition to running TMF, Michael works full time as a clinician at a methadone clinic that serves 1300 clients. Habit OPCO Lowell Treatment Center provides medically supervised methadone and suboxone maintenance treatment to individuals who are attempting to overcome an addiction. Michael’s caseload consists of 80 clients that he currently supports via telehealth in either individual or group sessions.

When asked what it has been like working on the front line during the pandemic, Michael expressed concern—not for himself, but for those he works with. “Many of my clients are homeless and working on getting their lives back together, but they are struggling immensely in this time. Clients were in a dark place already, suffering from depression and/or anxiety prior to the pandemic but the isolation has taken a really big toll on them. People are nervous that the clinic is going to shut down during their journey to recovery. I’m working hard to keep my clients feeling connected and supported by providing as much consistency in treatment during a time of complete unknown. People chasing the high haven’t spoken with family in years but they will talk to me – and for that, I’m grateful. I have learned so much from them; people experience life in so many different ways.”

Michael credits the Anna Maria College social work program and its faculty for preparing him to work within many different circumstances and settings. “As a career, social work is so broad and there are many different opportunities to help individuals. The faculty took me under their collective wings and guided me every step of the way – from clinical work, handling tense situations, and the aspects of working with the community including the elderly, the youth, addiction recovery, hospital settings, and the homeless. The faculty wanted YOU to be successful and the relationships built then, are still very important to me today.”

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, social work is projected to grow 11% from 2018 to 2028, much faster than the average for all occupations. Employment growth will be driven by increased demand for healthcare and social services, but will vary by specialization.

For students who are studying and/or entering social work as a career, Michael offers this advice. “If you’re thinking about Anna Maria for social work, do it. Get your feet wet. The professors have so much experience that will help you grow! Keep learning – but not just by the book… with your eyes. There are many community opportunities available to you including service trips and volunteer work – the type of things that help you experience the community along with the book smarts. And finally, cherish the journey. You will remember the talks, the classroom moments – and the people that helped you. Cherish it – it goes by fast. College is all about the moments that help shape your life.”