Losing his father at 15, Mr Fareez Mohamed Fahmy's family went through a rough patch and had to live in a one-room rental flat.
But that did not stop him from winning the Promising Social Worker Award, becoming the poster boy for social workers and heading a family service centre.
The 34-year-old, who is married with a son, is head of Ang Mo Kio Family Service Centre's (AMKFSC) Cheng San branch.
Growing up in rental flats around Toa Payoh Lorong 5, which Mr Fareez described as a "scary" neighbourhood, as fights would break out at the void decks.
During national service, seeing the problems of an army mate cemented his resolve to become a social worker.
The man was 19, but had a wife and sick father to support, all on his NS salary.
"If we were to lend him a listening ear (he would talk), but it didn't solve his problems. (It's) about how to go about getting assistance and where to go," he said.
"Social work isn't just about talk therapy but rather, about helping someone to help themselves," he added.
After graduating from the National University of Singapore in 2006, he joined AMKFSC Community Services.
But changing the world isn't just about pulling people out of bad situations, he learnt.
"When I wanted to become a social worker, (I thought I could) be like a superhero, but as I've progressed I've become an enabler," said Mr Fareez.
He won the Promising Social Worker Award in 2011 for his work in helping integrate former inmates back into society. The yearly awards are given out by the Singapore Association of Social Workers.
In 2012, he was among social workers highlighted in a campaign by the then Ministry of Community Development, Youth and Sports to promote social work as a career.
Mr Fareez recalled one of the first few cases he handled, where a man was about to be evicted from his home, and social workers were trying to find him a place to live.
They eventually managed to have a family member take him in, but it was so last minute that Mr Fareez was involved in helping him carry boxes as he moved out.
"I was thinking that this person needs total help and I came in trying to take over (doing everything) for him. But I realised that as social workers we need to take a step back, sit down with our clients and ask where they want to go," he said.
Much of what social workers do is not just helping people get back on their feet, but also assisting them to walk again.
"But we must remember to be respectful even when helping people instead of just telling them what to do," he said, using the example of a monkey who scooped a fish out of a flood thinking that it was going to drown.
When he first started, he would think that since he could overcome adversity, his clients should be able to as well.