Urban social work Program Testimonials
Nebraska Wesleyan University
"I recommend this program to students who are looking to grow personally and professionally. Growing up in small town Nebraska where a majority of the population is Christian and white, there was no chance to be challenged in my culture or beliefs. Moving to Lincoln, NE for college was a step up and widened my worldview, but only for small snippets of time, like volunteering at a shelter, school events or speakers, driving to older parts of town, or eating at an authentic restaurant. I knew I wanted to be a Social Worker, but I felt like I was trying to help people who I knew nothing about.
The Chicago Center connected me with Heartland Alliance, a nonprofit organization that works to end poverty, homelessness, and injustice through a wide range of programs. They provide a holistic approach in supporting the most vulnerable populations to put people on a path towards sustainable independence. I interned in a Youth Residential Center that serves as a shelter for unaccompanied children who travel to the United States as an immigrant or refugee. Heartland’s mission and approach is what attracted me to the organization. I wanted an experience that would challenge my biases and bring me out of my comfort zone. I knew this internship would give me the chance to work with children of all ages and from cultures all around the world, and since the Chicago Center already had a relationship with the organization, it was an easy match.
Moving to a new place with new people and a new job can be intimidating, but every step of the way I was meeting with staff of the Chicago Center that offered priceless advice. One aspect of the program I want to highlight is how supported I constantly felt by the staff. Weekly meetings with my supervisor, Julian, was something I looked forward to, and was a chance for me to ask a professional in the field anything I had questions or doubts about and for advice. I felt like he honestly cared about my experience and wanted me to succeed. He helped me take a step back to view situations objectively and never sugar coated answers or advice, and I truly appreciate that.
Aside from the city and my internship, I enjoyed the fact that I lived with students interning in different parts of the city and working with varying social justice issues. Living with students who saw themselves as helping professionals and who were also working to expand their worldview helped motivate me daily to do the same, and gave me a chance to learn about other important issues that I do not come across in my work. My roommates were awesome and I am grateful for the chance to have tough conversations with them in a safe space.
I used my Chicago Center experience as a stepping-stone from college student to a professional in the workforce. It gave me a chance to dip my toes in the water before fully jumping in. The center helped me navigate my new home and brought me to parts of the city that I never would have ventured to had I not been with the program. The city is still very segregated, so it is possible to travel down the street for miles and feel like you’ve just visited different cities. The effects of racism and gentrification are actually visible to the eye and it’s not just a paragraph in a book anymore.
Over the summer I really got to know and love the city, and all its unique parts. This is an experience you have to take advantage of, and you get out of it what you put into it. I remember this time last year, being so unsure of what was in store for me next and being nervous about moving to a new place, but I was more scared of staying stagnant and comfortable. So if you are like me, and not quite sure what your next step is, but want to be challenged and grow as a person and as a professional, I encourage you to take the leap and apply for the Chicago Center. Even if you don’t end up moving here, there will surely be things you can take from the experience and add to your toolbox for the future!
I ended up moving to Chicago and am employed with Heartland Alliance as a Youth Care Worker in the program where I interned. I am forever grateful for the Chicago Center for being a source of support and guidance in this part of my life and helping me take my next step."
"Like many students who decide to spend a semester in Chicago with the Chicago Center, I am originally from and also attend college in a small rural town. The thought of moving to a big city, especially the third largest city in the United States, was both extremely intriguing and terrifying all together. I decided that if I stayed in Iowa, I would not have the same opportunities as I would if I went to Chicago. I quickly learned that I made one of the best decisions of my life. Don’t get me wrong, the transition from small town to big city was quite the anxiety-filled adventure. However, after I became familiar with the city, I completely fell in love with it. The Chicago Center staff played a huge role in helping us get acquainted with life in Chicago.
During the first couple of weeks that we were in city, we went through orientation. One of the things I was most hesitant about was navigating Chicago via public transit. Thankfully, we spent an entire day learning how to properly use the CTA buses and trains. I have actually come to love my commutes to and from work. It is a time when I can listen to music, read a good book, reflect on what happened that day, or simply clear my mind and look out the window at Lake Michigan. The Chicago Center staff also took us to some of the many neighborhoods in Chicago. We explored Pilsen, Boystown, Wrigleyville, Bronzeville, and many more. I never would have found these hidden gems on my own. We also learned about Chicago’s unique architecture, its many cultures, and where to find the best food. I will forever be craving a chicken taco from El Milagro.
My internship was at the Michael Barlow Center at St. Leonard’s Ministries in Near West Side. St. Leonard’s Ministries is an umbrella agency for adults with criminal backgrounds who have been recently released from Illinois prisons. The agency includes four housing facilities for participants who are receiving services. It also includes the Michael Barlow Center, which provides education and employment training programs. I primarily helped participants with job training and job placement services. I was able to work one-on-one with participants to prepare resumes, improve computer literacy skills, and complete job applications. I was also able to help teach the Road to Success class, which is a job readiness course that prepares participants for job interviews and professional work ethic. I feel so grateful for the opportunity to intern at the Michael Barlow Center and to have worked with all of the participants. I can honestly say I am a better person now because of them. They are some of the most inspiring and genuine people I have ever met. My passion for criminal justice and prison reform also grew tremendously throughout my time at my internship.
As far as future plans, I am moving back home to Wisconsin to take a year off before graduate school. During that year, I will be nannying for a local family, which will give me the time and flexibility to travel. My family is planning a trip to Norway this summer, so that will be my biggest adventure. I am also planning some domestic trips to Colorado, Ohio, Minnesota, and of course I will be coming back to Chicago as much as I can. After my year of travel, I plan to move back to Chicago for graduate school to pursue a master’s degree in social work and continue to concentrate on criminal justice. Although I do not know which school I will attend yet, the Jane Addams College of Social Work at UIC has sparked my interest the most. I am excited for what my future has in store for me. I cannot thank the Chicago Center enough for my experience here in the city. I am going to leave Chicago with a new confidence and a bright outlook on life. I learned more about myself than I ever thought was possible."
"Going to college in a rural setting provided me with opportunities that I deeply value, but it was not able to develop me completely. I spent two summers doing social work internships in and around Decorah, IA and knew the community well. I had hit a point where I knew I needed a new and fresh environment that challenged me. The Chicago Center did just that. The city of Chicago is a classroom in itself, and this is what the Center believes. They provide you with the tools to be a successful student in your new home; working to expose you to the diversity and life that exists throughout every part of the city.
While I was here not only did I come to love the city; I also came to love the people that I shared the city with. Our floor was a group of students from six different colleges and universities that became one family. We made meals together, shared our experiences, and grew from one another. Living on a floor where they were an equal amounts of social workers and teachers provided for a learning environment in itself. We were able to see the city through each other’s perspectives, being challenged and growing in tandem. The location and apartment that the Chicago Center provides allows you to live comfortably and enjoy every part of the city. With a bus stop outside the building and “L” nearby you are able to take advantage of everything the city has to offer.
While in Chicago I was paired with an organization by the name of Chicago House. Chicago House works with HIV/AIDS through multiple means providing housing, counseling, employment, medial linkage, and support. During my time there I worked with the Prevention Team. Part of my job was to have conversations with and educate the LGBTQ community about HIV and sexual health. I would use geo-social apps to interact with the community and give options such as HIV testing, information on PrEP, and answer questions on sexual health. I also would do outreach events throughout Boystown at local bars and clubs; meeting the clients where they are at. During my semester at Chicago House I was challenged and supported with every step that I took.
Once a week you meet with your fellow classmates and have seminar. This is a time where you are able to process the past week and to look retrospectively at what you all learned. I loved my seminar experience. Being able to work with a staff that is not only knowledgeable, but cultivates passion is key foundation to the Center. You find yourself moving from casual conversations to thought provoking ideas and concepts that are taking place within the city. Working with
and learning from the Chicago Center has been a key point of me becoming the social worker that I am today.
Now that I have moved away from Chicago and am done with college I have found a new life. I am currently living in Occupied East Jerusalem working at a school for the blind and visually impaired. I live in an Arab neighborhood north of the Old City. Living in a community that is diverse, like Chicago, provides me with a variety of different perspectives and narratives. Using the skills that I learned as a social work student I am able to grapple with the underling tensions that exist day to day. As an American living and working abroad I have been able to use the skills that I learned from the Chicago Center in my life here. With the self confidence that I was able to obtain by living in Chicago I feel more comfortable exploring the city and the diversity that exists here."
"I still remember the day like it was yesterday: May 14th, 2008. My parents and I packed up their mini van and began the five hour drive from the suburbs of Detroit to my assigned Chicago Center apartment on 51st and Drexel. Almost nine years later, it is without question the best decision I ever made.
The initial reason I wanted to explore Chicago Center was for access to public transportation. My disability (Cerebral Palsy) meant driving was not a possibility. I had completed all of my course work at Adrian College and staying in Michigan relying on others for constant transportation was not appealing or feasible long term. Chicago Center came to my social work methods class and presented the chance to complete my social work practicum with them in a summer term. I was placed at Access Living, a non-residential agency focusing on empowering the disability community in Chicago. A perfect fit for me! My specific duties revolved around finding housing for clients who were placed in nursing homes. The program had funding to provide the client with $200 for food and $300 to help with household items. The first client I successfully placed was overwhelmed with having the freedom to choose his own bedspread after years of being constricted in the nursing home. I had never been so happy to spend three hours in Walmart shopping!
That small interaction shaped my desire to pursue a career in social work, and the skills I learned during that internship proved immensely beneficial in my current job: Case Manager at Featherfist, a social service agency aimed at providing resources to homeless individuals in the Chicagoland area. Coming to Chicago Center gave me these real world skills, as well as an urban internship that would have been much different had I done the traditional route of going through an agency in my rural college town. The independence afforded to me by public transportation was also
life changing. The program provides students with very thorough training of the city transit system. Having this freedom still provides an emotional high almost nine years later.
I also made lifelong friends that summer, the best summer of my life. The events the program has students attend gave me invaluable experience to parts of the city I never visited on countless weekend trips here as a kid, and the Oreo milkshake at Hamburger Mary's remains the best shake I've ever had. I could write a whole letter just on events of that summer alone. However, the one which always stays with me was going to the Taste of Chicago with a group of ten people on a perfect June Saturday. Seeing all the people with the backdrop of the skyline eating pulled pork made for a great afternoon, and then we found out Stevie Wonder would be performing! Hearing him belt out "The City" surrounded by great friends I had just met weeks earlier, I knew Chicago was home. Hyde Park has been my home for nine years on May 16th, and that would not have been possible without making Chicago my classroom. You should too!"