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UMD's Master of Social Work program operates on the principles of knowledge, experience, and exposure. It places students into internships, giving them greater access to agencies and different populations of children and adults. Three graduate students, Gina Farrell, Tamara Miskovic and Rachel Sawyer, who have social work internships at different organizations in Duluth, all agree, they are not only learning and gaining new skills, but they are helping the community as well. At this point, when the economy is stressing non-profits in Minnesota and across the country, these internships are appreciated by local agencies more than ever. This experience has proved to be a valuable asset for students as they apply for jobs.
First Witness, a child advocacy center, is where Farrell chose to complete an internship. They offer services for children and their families who are victims of abuse and work with a team of professionals responsible for the assessment, medical exams, and mental health services of the victim, as well as investigation and prosecution of the abuser.
First Witness’ main priority is to “provide a child-friendly environment for forensic interviewing of children when child abuse is suspected,” Farrell said. “The team’s protocol requires a recorded interview with a child using a format that is developmentally designed to obtain accurate information.
Farrell assists the director of First Witness by providing advocacy and support services for child abuse victims and their families. By supporting these children and family, Farrell is helping to improve many Duluth communities. “The more people that are aware of child abuse and talking about it, the more people that will get involved and work to prevent it,” she said.
After she completes her internship at First Witness, Farrell wants to work for a public or tribal child protection agency in Duluth or back on the West Coast. In the long term, she hopes to run a program at a non-profit supporting children, families and advocates for social justice.
Miskovic, who is from Sarajevo, Bosnia, said she has always been interested in social work, and came to the U.S. to attend grad school for social work, “I grew up in war. I saw so much brutality and violence. I just always had social work in me.”
At PATCH, Miskovic’s job includes interviewing residents of the community to find out their biggest needs and plan activities that meet their needs. Currently, she works on a program for children called “Mind 2 Mind” where children can participate in after-school activities from 3 p.m. to 6 p.m. every Monday through Thursday.
By making connections with the community, Miskovic gives residents in need a place to be heard. “We show them there is opportunity for large changes and help them take on the responsibilities towards making the changes,” she said. “Really we are just taking little steps one at a time.”
After she graduates in the spring, Miskovic plans to apply for a one-year work visa and pursue her Ph.D.
Sawyer is an intern at Community Action Duluth (CAD), where she works with communities in the Duluth-Superior area and helps create asset-building programs that are designed to move families out of poverty. One of the projects Sawyer assists with is a free tax site service, “We will do taxes for families with incomes of $40,000 or less,” she said. CAD also helps the families set up bank accounts and provides other financial assistance services.
Along with creating their own programs, CAD collaborates with other agencies like Northern Communities Land Trust to get the word out about their services.
Sawyer, who didn’t have a lot of expectations when she started the internship, likes seeing people happy from the services they received. However, it's hard for her to be an observer of poverty. "Sometimes social work gets difficult. It’s humbling seeing people in need. You really see how fortunate you are.”
Written by Donna O'Neill.
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