by Peter Phi, Pivotal High School Coach, and Chris Salinas, Manager of Grants and Communications 

When I was 13 years old, my parents put me on a flight from Vietnam and sent me to the United States to live with my uncle, aunt, and grandfather. My high school years were especially hard. In those four years, I changed schools three times! What I didn’t realize back then was that my experience of living with a family I didn’t know and shuffling from school to school was very similar to that of foster youth. Maybe that's why I'm drawn to social work. 

About three years ago, a friend told me about her work as a social worker, and something resonated with me. I thought “What? There’s a career like that? That's what I want to do!” I enrolled in De Anza Community College and later transferred to San Jose State University, where I pursued a bachelor’s degree in social work. That’s when I first learned about Pivotal and its Intern Coaching Program. The Intern Coaching Program is great because it gives bachelor's and masters' level students in social work a chance to earn our professional hours by practicing the skills we learn in the classroom. We also receive weekly supervision and support from Pivotal's exceptional team.

During my year as a Pivotal Intern Coach, I worked closely with six high school students with varying backgrounds, interests, and motivations. My experience with one high school youth, Mike, will stay with me forever because I witnessed the immediate impact of my work.

Mike was a senior and captain of his school’s basketball team. His dream school had always been Sacramento State University. He was so committed to that school, that he did not apply to others. As his coach, I guided him through the application process. A few months after submitting his application, he contacted me to say that he had not been accepted.

Now, if there’s one thing I’ve learned in my life, it’s that persistence pays off! I urged Mike to consider appealing the decision and he did. We contacted Sac State to ask about the appeals process and learned that the denial had been made on a technicality regarding his high school credits!

We needed to prove that Mike did have the credits he needed so that the admissions committee would reconsider his case. We got to work quickly, gathered the information he needed, and leaned on my Pivotal supervisors for additional support. With so many people cheering for him, Mike rediscovered his confidence and felt great about his decision to appeal. In fact, Mike decided to DRIVE his appeals packet to Sacramento! Then we waited. The following week, all of Mike’s hard work and persistence paid off. He was accepted into Sacramento State!

Through year as a Pivotal Intern, I honed my skills as a social worker and learned how to work across many government systems. I also delved into a new depth of empathy too. Life has taught me that you don’t always get back what you put into things, rather, sometimes, you get much more. That’s what Pivotal has done for me.

Peter Phi, BSW has been a Pivotal High School coach since 2020.