Social Work Students Take Center Stage in Battle Against COVID-19

December graduates Giselle Barraza '20 and Emily Godin '20 have a lifelong passion for helping others. Both sought a career where they could make a difference in people's lives and discovered social work in college. Neither could have imagined their senior practicum — a 420-hour internship providing hands-on experience in the field — would happen during a global pandemic when social workers would be needed more than ever.

“We’re seeing greater numbers of food insecurity,” said Patricia Saleeby, who directs the program. “We’re (also) worried about issues related to child abuse and neglect ... There's an even greater need for social workers now in our local community — working on front lines and behind the scenes making resource referrals to make sure people get whatever services they actually need, and helping people grieve the losses of the pandemic.”

Barraza spent her fall semester working at Goodwill Industries of Central Illinois. Her team created a resource guide of local support agencies for the scaled-back Stand Down for Veterans event to provide winter clothing, hygiene products, haircuts and more. The Calumet City, Ill., native also helped launch the first-ever virtual kickoff week for the GoodGuides mentoring program. She hosted Zoom events for 12- to 17-year-olds, including a game night, a get-to-know-you craft night and virtual tours of places around the world.

“Being creative and attracting the youth to a safe space where they can enjoy the presence of others virtually and create new relationships is something that I really take to heart,” said Barraza. “We're planning more virtual events to keep that connection because we don’t know when this pandemic will end. It's a very scary time for kids.”

A proud first-generation student, she plans to pursue a master's degree with family and children as her specialty. Her goal is to work with young people who face challenges with their mental health.

“I know as a Latinx person — I’m Mexican — mental health is not really touched on within our households. I want to be the advocator for people to be more comfortable speaking about mental health within the Latinx population.”

Godin's fall practicum was at FamilyCore, a local organization that provides adoption, counseling, education and other services to support healthy, productive families. As an adoption intern, she helped families through the process, from conducting an initial home study to post-placement reports.

“Seeing families with the child that they adopted for the first time is really a beautiful sight, that new family growing and living together,” she said. “I think the pandemic makes that an even sweeter moment because everything is a little more complicated now.”

The Rockford, Ill., native hopes to secure a job in foster care and child welfare, then head to graduate school after gaining more firsthand experience. Godin admitted working in the community during this unusual time has been eye-opening.

“It’s made me realize the resilience and creativity in the social work field. There’s been a lot of curveballs thrown at everyone throughout the pandemic. It’s really inspiring to see how people can adapt and change and grow through all of it.”

— Wendy Vinglinsky