Briana Neale & Leighann Ramirez, MSW Interns
University of Buffalo Master’s of Social Work graduate students, Ms. Neale & Ms. Ramirez support New American Integration’s resettlement efforts to welcome new arrivals to Western New York.
Can you tell me a little about what you do here?
[BN]: I do a number of different things. My major responsibility is to assist in resettling clients and all of the different tasks associated with that—securing housing, pre-arrival work, paperwork, scheduling and attending appointments, teaching them to use local transportation, etc.
[LR]: In the beginning, I was helping the case workers with client-related matters. Now, Brianna and I have been assigned our first case and are tasked with having to do everything to prepare for our family before their arrival. We’ve been spending a great deal of time making their new home as welcoming as possible—there are ‘Welcome to Buffalo’ signs everywhere. We want to make sure their needs are met and they are able to get the services they need. They do not have to face this transition alone, and our job is to make sure they know that.
What are your academic credentials? How have they prepared you for your position?
[BN]: I received my Bachelor’s degree from Niagara University in Social Work and Spanish, which I feel has really prepared me for some of the things that I am doing now. I find my background in social work to be very versatile, from developing communication skills to working with diverse populations. Working on my Master’s of Social Work (MSW) at UB now and getting into the more practical applications of my studies has also been really wonderful in conjunction with this role.
[LR]: I graduated with my Bachelor’s degree in Humanities and Justice with minors in Philosophy and Latin American studies at John Jay College of Criminal Justice. Currently, I am at the University of Buffalo working on a Master’s of Social Work and Juris Doctorate. I wouldn’t say my studies in law have necessarily helped me, but the social work-side has really helped me deal with clients as far as interpersonal communications and interventions go. It has also aided me in empowering and encouraging our clients, so they have the ability to decide what they want to do and how they want to do it.
What would you say is the most rewarding thing, thus far, about interning here at the Institute?
[BN]: Definitely seeing the relationships that are built with clients. At our holiday party for our clients, I was happily surprised to see how many former clients are still so connected to the Institute and our staff. In general, I would say that it has been really wonderful that I am finally able to use skills I’ve developed as a social worker.
[LR]: Meeting the families. You get information about the family with their pictures from U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants (USCRI) and do lots of behind-the-scenes work prior to their arrival. Then, the day finally comes when you pick them up from the airport and you see all of your hard-work finally come to fruition. They are so thankful, it’s such a wonderful experience.
What is one accomplishment that you are most proud of (at work or outside of work)? Why?
[BN]: As an undergraduate, I definitely had to purse my own education pretty fiercely. As a double major in Social Work and Spanish, it was very difficult to navigate—they were both small programs and had not been done simultaneously before. So, I would definitely say that advocating for myself and what I wanted out of my education at a small school, like Niagara, was a big accomplishment.
[LR]: Thus far at the Institute, I would say my biggest accomplishment is having learned to advocate for our clients to get outcomes that are in their best interest. Once, I was driving a client to a doctor’s appointment that had taken a month to schedule, when they called to cancel. An important appointment for the client, I was happy that they were able find the time to fit him in. Learning to be reasonably persistent for our clients has been an accomplishment that I can be proud of.
Since the Institute works with diverse people from all over the world, can you share with us what you know about your own heritage?
[BN]: I don’t know much, other than I come from a mix of different Northern and Eastern European backgrounds. I know that my Dad’s family is from Norway and that my grandmother on my mother’s side is from Czechoslovakia.
[LR]: I was born and raised in Queens, NY, but my parents migrated from Bolivia when they were about 23. I consider myself Bolivian and am very tied to my heritage and culture. I have danced Bolivian folk dance since I was 10 years old. I speak Spanish, but I would love to learn the Bolivian dialect and get to know more about my roots.
Given the international nature of the Institute, have you traveled abroad? Any places on your bucket list?
[BN]: I have been to Spain twice; the second time studying in Alicante (about five hours south of Barcelona) for five months. I also had the opportunity to travel to Ireland, England, France, Morocco, and Poland. I would really like to visit India one day.
[LR]: I have been to Bolivia, Nicaragua, Panama, the Dominican Republic, Argentina, France, and Switzerland. Bucket list wise, I would like to travel to India, Thailand and the Philippines.
If you could sit down with any historical figure, who would you choose?
[BN]: Eleanor Roosevelt—she was really a trailblazing advocate for human rights.
[LR]: Dolores Huerta, who is actually still alive. She was a Chicana activist that helped César Chávez establish the United Farm Workers movement in California. I would like to talk with her about what it was like to be female Mexican organizer in the 1950s and what she would suggest moving forward today.
Favorite ethnic food?
[BN]: I love Latin American food. My favorite thing is tostones (fried plantains).
[LR]: Columbia food. Bandeja paisa—rice, steak, chorizo, arepa, avocado, sweet plantain and beans—is definitely my favorite.
[LR]: This Bridge Called My Back about third wave feminism. A collection of essays, poems and criticisms about feminism from the perspective of women of color. Written in the 1980s, it’s a timeless book that still is very relevant today.
What can you tell me about your life away from the Institute?
[BN]: I spend quite a bit of time in the classroom these days [laughs], but also work at the YMCA and babysit. As a Rochester native, I have spent a lot of time getting to know Buffalo—there’s so much to take in here.
[LR]: When I am not here or in class, I volunteer at Vive La Casa, which provides legal aid and safe refuge to persons seeking asylum in the U.S. or Canada and serve on the local UB, and national board of the Latin American Law Students Association. Also, I am a fairly crafty person, so in my free time l take on a lot of do-it-yourself projects.
What three traits would you say define you?
[BN]: Open-minded, listener and cheerful.
[LR]: Artistically-oriented, passionate and optimistic.