Asked & Answered: Tierre Webster finds his way to social work, ministry

Damascus Way leader talks about mentorship, developing leaders.

Tierre Webster, Executive Director of Damascus Way Reentry Center, on Friday, Aug. 20, 2021 in Rochester. Traci Westcott / Post Bulletin

When Rochester Magazine last caught up with Tierre Webster , he was leading in Next Chapter Ministries, a faith-based organization helping families escape the cycle of crime. He’s previously held positions with Minnesota Adult and Teen Challenge, and at Family Service Rochester, where he began the Father Project.

In 2020, Webster became the executive director of Damascus Way, a Christian re-entry center. We spoke to him about the intersection of social work and ministry.

How did you go from Next Chapter to Damascus Way ? What drew you to this field of social work and ministry?

It certainly wasn't the plan. I was pleased with what Next Chapter was doing. I think it was just an opportunity that felt right for my life and my family, and the next step in the field.

Understanding the demographic, it's the same demographic of people coming out of incarceration, like they were in Next Chapter. Unlike many, I didn't really have any close family members that were in this cycle of incarceration. I really think it was something that was shaped by some sort of outside influence, outside power if you will. God put a call into this in my life. I now since I was a little guy, I've always had a desire to impact what we now call the marginalized or underserved groups. From that perspective, it's not strange.


My father and I did have a small business in the early 2000s, a private contracting business as well as a general contracting business. When the balloon busted, I laid myself off for a year. Started having a desire to be a corrections officer and work in the jail. You know, I didn't really understand social work back then, but I thought I might want to make a difference in people's lives.

The job I was pursuing didn't work out, but that aspiration led to a position with Family Service Rochester as a case manager, (and) that led to actually becoming a social worker and a supervisor in the human service field. I started a fatherhood program. Many of those men had incarceration in their history. And then, as time progressed, my leadership got more shape, more definition, and that led to Next Chapter, and that led to Damascus Way.

Were there any milestones or turning points in your career, things that encouraged you into this path?

My father actually played a significant role in my life, just encouraging me to do what I felt called to do. I had a pastor who’s now passed away, who was one that impacted my life spiritually, the formation of my pastoral call as I got into the formal human service field. There were different supervisors that shaped my heart. The former director of Family Service Rochester, Brad Lohrbach, identified a gift in me. I’ve been really fortunate.

It seems obvious and yet it feels like a lot of organizations don’t try for diversity in their own staff.

Part of my fabric is, I really take pride in developing leaders. That's what we need. Those sort of leaders doing this sort of work, in every area of society.

If you were talking to a young person who's considering a career in social work or in ministry or sort of the combination of two that you've landed in, what's the advice you would give?

School doesn't get you ready for this. I guess the advice that I would give sincerely is, be sure that this is what you're called to do. Pace yourself. Burnout’s a reality in the social work field. The (career) life of a social worker is three to five years. This is hard, exhausting work. Another thing I would say is, take time to identify small progress. I think a lot of times we're looking for this transformation or big, big change. The kind of the things that happen on a daily basis, we fail to not applaud ourselves and others for that.


And I think a key thing is probably the most important: Identify a mentor that can help shape your experience.

How do you find a mentor?

Right, that's the challenge. Here's what I think about when I think about folks that are in social work, or any really any sector of society. But I think whatever field you’re in, you have a responsibility to sow back in someone else's life. Part of the charge is to those that are in the field: you have to identify those who need a mentor. But in the question of how to find a mentor, I think you have to be intentional. Keep your eyes open and look for someone (where) you see something in their life that you want to emulate. And so I think that's part of the task, trying to find someone that's doing what you want, what you admire.

What would be the best way for people to aid Damascus Way? Are you fundraising now, or looking for volunteers?

Certainly finance is obviously a major need, but I like to think of the three T's or Time, Treasure, and Talent. So I think they're all equally important. If I could urge somebody to do (one) thing, it's really to spend some time getting to know your neighbors. And as you get to know your neighbors, I think what you find is (that) their narrative probably isn't too far removed, that they have experience or know someone that's gone through incarceration. So, as you begin to experience that, you get to see the value of the work of Damascus Way. And as you begin to value the work of Damascus, I think generally there's a desire to get involved. Everyone has to decide how to do that and how that best fits them.

So yes, we're always looking for donors. But even more than that, I want everyone to get to know someone that has been impacted by incarceration.

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