Meet Your Neighbor: Hernan Poza

I recently retired from a 25-year career as a New York City social worker; 5 years with the Department of Health’s HIV/AIDS Services Division as Coordinator of the Anonymous Counseling & Testing site at Chelsea Clinic, and 20 years as a related service provider/counselor with the Department of Education’s District 75 program for Special Education. Through my work in the schools, I became a father figure to hundreds of youth. During my career I dealt with some harrowing and heartbreaking situations. Needless to say, it was challenging work, but I loved it right up until my last day. Now that I’m retired, I’m able to focus on the uplifting aspects of social work I enjoyed throughout my career.

Professionally and in my personal life, group work has been a common thread.  When I was 17, I came out and joined a gay youth group that changed my life; throughout my years as a social worker I used group therapy to support my clients; and in my retirement, I’m facilitating community groups that offer local seniors a space to be themselves. Group activities allow my clients to develop self-awareness and communication skills while providing a broad safety net for those who may otherwise be hesitant to discuss their feelings or perceived weaknesses.

On Wednesdays, I lead a weekly discussion group called “Seniors Together” at Queens Center for Gay Seniors (QCGS) in Jackson Heights.  The group provides a safe and positive space for participants to share their experiences, gain support and grow new friendships. It’s particularly effective for seniors who’ve recently come out or are experiencing loneliness. It also gives me the space to share my own experiences. As a social worker during the AIDS epidemic, I have witnessed great pain and suffering, including the loss of my own partner.  In the past, I’ve upheld professional boundaries, so I’m still relatively new to sharing my stories. At QCGS, I can be my whole self.

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