At his first social work job, filmmaker and Barry University alumnus Albert Dabah was tasked with answering calls on a mental health hotline. The recent Brooklyn College-graduate received a call from a woman who was quoting lines from a Neil Young song and contemplating suicide. He was able to convince her to come into the office and receive help. “It made a difference to me that I could handle that,” he recalls.
Dabah wasn’t planning on pursuing social work or film, but rather on becoming a baseball player. Dabah’s life, however, was shaped not only by early jobs in social work but by the loss of two of his older siblings to suicide. He eventually shared his story with the world in his 2019 feature film, Extra Innings. Available on Amazon Prime, the award-winning movie tells his personal tale of growing up in Brooklyn in a Syrian orthodox Jewish family affected by mental illness.
At the urging of former coworkers, Dabah began pursuing his master’s degree in social work in Miami Shores. “It was like a new life for me,” he says of his time at Barry. He made great friends, was active in sports, and enjoyed the swimming pool and tennis courts. It was also, where, he says, “I got the acting bug.” He took acting classes and performed in several plays. Even after he graduated and was working at Jewish Family Services in Miami, he returned for a role in Barry’s production of Oklahoma.
He learned the most about social work in the field. “One of the most important things in graduate school is your internship,” Dabah says. “I was very serious about the work.” Something he learned from a supervisor at an internship at New Hope Guild in Brooklyn, New York was, “If you make a difference in one kid’s life, that's really something.”
He applied tools he discovered in seminars to his work with patients. After learning about psychodrama, he helped a young patient with a breakthrough. “Do the best you can knowing that everyone is an individual,” he observes of his experiences. “Look at their diagnosis maybe as a footprint; it doesn’t say everything about them because everyone is unique.”
After working in social work briefly, he went on to pursue acting and video production for 41 years with esteemed actors, producers, and directors.
His oldest sister, whom he considered his best friend, always encouraged him to write about their brother’s story. He was schizophrenic, homebound, and died by suicide. Then she did. “Losing her really hurt a lot,” he recalls. After that, he followed her advice. After 12 drafts, Extra Innings was finally ready for the big screen. “I’m really proud of the film,” Dabah says. “What I’ve learned in the past and all the experiences I’ve had, it’s all in there.”
It is ultimately a story of hope and extra chances, hence the title. “If you’re passionate about something and if it’s not working out, you can get down about it, but there’s always hope to come up,” he shares. He also has a podcast called Extra Innings, Covering All The Bases for which he interviews mental health experts, actors, sports figures, writers, artists, and people from all phases of life that deal with wellness. He has recently become licensed as a life coach, as well.
As far as advice he has for current students, he says, “The most important thing about being a social worker is to be empathetic to people, to think about what you have to give and how you would like to communicate it to your clients. The more it comes from your heart, the better, the more expressive you can be the better... think about it as something that can have great value for who you’re working with and that great value can return to you in that you’re able to help someone.”