Meet the Social Workers of the Institute’s Survivor Support Department
Over the last few months, we have highlighted and shared with you every Thursday afternoon a different Institute staff member in celebration of our rich 100 year history in Western New York. According to a social directory in 1921, the Institute had only eight employees; today, we have over 40.
With that being said, we offer many different services and programs to both clients and our community, including providing intensive case management to survivors of human trafficking and domestic violence. Each year, our Survivor Support department works with scores of survivors from dozens of countries of origin, including the United States. Due to the sensitive nature of their work, we felt it was most appropriate to highlight the department as a whole. And now, we present to you the social workers that make up our Survivor Support department.
What brought you to domestic violence (DV) and human trafficking (HT) work?
• I’ve always wanted to work in issues that effect women and children, so I jumped at the opportunity to do this work at such a prestigious agency!
• All throughout high school I had every intention to study music performance. It wasn’t until college auditions began that I realized I wanted to follow a different path. I had experience as an unofficial peer advocate for a loved one who was going through a difficult time, and realized this was something I could see myself doing with the proper tools and education. For years, my criminal justice and social work professors would tell me that I should reach out to the Institute. When I started my advanced-standing program at UB and interviewed for my placement here, I was lucky enough to be selected as an intern and eventually an employee. HT is a complex issue that is often misunderstood, which is one of the reasons I feel so compelled to continue learning and advocating on behalf of this population.
• Everyone has the right to feel safe, to have a home where they belong and a voice that is heard. Working with DV survivors, you work with a population that has been stripped of all those things—I love being able to give them tools to find that voice again, to empower them and to rebuild a space they can call their own.
• Years of working with youth in “the system” put me in a great position to advocate for and develop programs for the most vulnerable youth out there.
• I’ve always been passionate about working with non-English speaking people, particularly refugees and immigrants. Initially I thought I wanted to teach English as a Second Language, so much of my internship and volunteer experience is in that area. I joined the Peace Corps to teach English after I finished school, but I quickly learned that while I enjoyed working with non-English speakers, I was not cut out to be a teacher. I shifted my attention to public health and found an interesting intersection between DV and public health.
• In 2007, I was looking for Social Work internships and the Institute came up. I began in Refugee Resettlement (today, New American Integration) as an intern, then was hired in Survivor Support. After pursuing my Master’s, I found my way back to the Institute.
• I studied Politics as an undergraduate and became really passionate about human rights and combating gender-based violence. I took this job because I really wanted a “boots on the ground” perspective of what vulnerable populations deal with on a day-to-day basis.
• I took a more winding road than most to get here. I set out originally to do development work, so my degree is in International Development as opposed to Social Work, but I believe it has been for the best. I absolutely love working directly with members of the community and being able to walk with them through all sorts of obstacles and see their victories.
• I work specifically with youth survivors of human trafficking. I was drawn to this population because it is a vulnerable population and there is still much awareness that needs to be done.
• I started out in the department as an intern in coordination with my education at UB. Towards the end of my Master’s, I was offered a job as a DV advocate; I stayed because I love the work and have made great connections with the clients that I’ve had the pleasure of serving thus far.
• I wanted to provide rights-based education and empowerment skills to vulnerable populations.
What do you find to be most rewarding about working in the Survivor Support department?
• The most rewarding thing about working here is helping our clients see that they have the ability to learn and grow from their past. I’m constantly in awe of the resilience that everyone shows in the face of adversity.
• Every day is a new challenge and a new opportunity to learn and grow as an individual and as part of a team.
• I’ve only been here for a few weeks, but I can already say with total confidence that it’s the clients. I imagine most people who work here feel this way, but the clients we work with are so incredibly resilient and so positive and have already survived so much. Each one I’ve worked with seems to have this bottomless well of hope that we could all use more of.
• Watching victims transform into survivors who know and embrace their own power.
• Seeing the progress our clients make day-to-day, month-to-month, and even year-to-year in some cases.
• Seeing the astounding bravery, strength and resilience of our clients—they amaze me everyday.
• Simply put: our clients are amazing. Survivors in every sense. I love working with the immigration population, building direct relationships with clients and seeing them progress. Everyday we get to put on so many hats, and do all sorts of things well beyond our job descriptions. Just when you think you have seen everything, you come across something totally new. You could not find a better place to learn. It can be a lot, but thankfully we work with the best team—I work with such a strong, supportive group of women.
• Seeing the leaps and bounds of progress that clients can achieve, even in a short amount of time that we know them.
• All of the lives we have impacted.
• I am new to this position, but so far the most rewarding thing is meeting with clients to build rapport. Our services are voluntary, so they meet with us because they want to, of their own accord.
• Helping clients to achieve their goals and find independence. It is rewarding to see clients achieve things they thought they never could.
• I am always amazed at the strengths and accomplishments of our clients everyday.
Given the international nature of the Institute, have you traveled abroad?
• I was lucky enough to go to Spain in high school, and I cannot wait to travel to the rest of Europe eventually.
• Canada is where I’ve been “internationally,” but I have traveled to a few miscellaneous states in the U.S.
• I love to travel. My favorite places I’ve been so far are either Hawaii, Cambodia or Morocco. I’m headed to Sweden next week.
• Yes, I lived in Ireland for a year, and have been able to travel extensively.
• I have traveled to 26 countries, and lived in Poland and Malawi.
• My family travels to India once every few years. I have also been to Canada, France and Saudi Arabia.
• I studied abroad in Thailand, Laos, and Myanmar for four months during college. I visited my aunt and uncle in Malaysia briefly and hope to travel back to Thailand very soon.
• I have traveled to Guyana in South America.
• I have traveled to Costa Roca, Belize, Australia, and Canada.
• I’ve been fortunate enough to travel to 16 different countries in my life so far. Some of my favorites have been Germany, Austria, Slovakia, Czech Republic, and Poland.
• Yes, I have traveled to Mexico, England, France, Germany, Belgium and Italy.
Alma Mater(s) of our Survivor Support staff:
The first word or thought that comes to mind when our Survivor Support staff hears “International Institute of Buffalo”:
Survivor Support’s ancestors hail from…
Survivor Support’s bucket list of places to visit:
Australia • London • Italy • Fiji • New Zealand • Iceland • Prague • Thailand • Peru • India • Vietnam • South Africa • Ethiopia • Morocco • Laos • Antarctica • Brazil • Fiji • Greece • Portugal • Scandinavia • Ireland
Survivor Support’s favorite international food:
Vietnamese • Japanese • Thai • Polish • Mediterranean • Ethiopian • Thai • Somali • Kao Soi • Italian • Mexican • German