Internship Leads to New Perspective, Course Change
Posted on January 11, 2017
#SouthSuccessStories is an ongoing series featuring University of South Alabama alumni who are life-savers, innovators, game-changers, music-makers and creative-thinkers, successful in their careers and supportive of their communities.
A visit with a dying friend changed Kelsey Ramirez’s life the week before she came to the University of South Alabama.
“A friend was deathly ill, and when I visited her, a social worker came by,” Ramirez, 23, recalled. “In all the sadness, this social worker was the one bright light. I never knew her name, but as she went around to people in the waiting room, you could see each of these very sick people change, even for a second, when she talked to them because someone was listening.”
Ramirez’s memory of that impact on people led her to become a social worker, and today, only a few months after graduating from South in May 2016, she is a co-therapist with AltaPointe Health Systems. Along with a therapist, she finds ways to help teens who are dealing with issues such as substance abuse, emotional illness or criminal charges. The goal is to provide outpatient care so they can continue living with family at home rather than being sent to residential treatment programs or state detention.
“We go to their schools and to their homes so we can provide individual and family care. We try to let the client be in charge of their goals, such as communication with other family members, anger issues or making better grades,” Ramirez explained. “Then, we connect them with psych evaluations and appointments.”
In today’s world, the home visits run the length of the socio-economic ladder, and Ramirez, the product of an extremely stable home, admits some of the family problems and living situations are beyond what many people can tolerate. Then, she explains that she has always been guided by her own deep spiritual faith, instilled by her Mexican father and Italian mother, both lifelong and devout Catholics.
“Your faith guides you wherever you need to go,” said Ramirez. “If I do take my work home with me, it’s in my prayers for people. If I did it any other way, it wouldn’t work because so much of this life is out of my control. You have to focus on the things you can do for people. Not the things you can’t do. If I did that, then I would be miserable.”
Before graduation, she firmly resolved against working with children. Ironically, a required internship put her where she didn’t want to be — St. Mary’s Home, one of the oldest child welfare agencies in the country, located in Mobile.
“St. Mary’s was eye-opening for me, because it’s one thing to read about social work in a textbook, but when you actually see what’s out there, you gain a whole different perspective,” Ramirez said. “Definitely, after St. Mary’s I believe I was called, or guided, to work with children or teens as I am now.”
Her only sibling, an older brother who is now a nurse, attended South briefly, but the Andalusia, Ala., native said that wasn’t the driving force behind her decision in selecting a university.
“My parents and I visited my brother while he was here, but the main reason I selected South was because it wasn’t where everyone else was going,” Ramirez said, laughing. “When your parents are originally from Michigan, you don’t have the pressure to attend the larger Alabama universities that you may have if your parents are born in Alabama. Plus, I wanted to be far enough away from home to have the college experience but close enough to go home if I were homesick.”
While on campus, she also worked at student jobs in the Student Recreation Center, Housing and the Office of Marketing and Communication. The rest of her time was taken up with the student organization for social workers and the social worker honor society. She lived on campus with her best friend from high school until senior year, when the two opted to share an apartment close to campus.
“I think we just wanted the experience of paying rent and bills to prepare for after graduation. We still share the same apartment today, but that will change when my friend graduates with her master’s degree in occupational therapy in May,” Ramirez said.
She spends most of her time outside work with friends and family, enjoying life without the stress of tests. She has taken and passed the professional examination to be designated a BSW, or licensed bachelor social worker, but said it may be a while before she begins graduate studies.
“I’m open to whatever opportunities are given to me, but for right now I’m enjoying my job and Mobile is home,” Ramirez said. “After real stressful weeks, I sometimes go over to Fairhope, get a cup of coffee and enjoy the park.”
She also babysits occasionally for several families because “their kids make me realize there are families who are way more fortunate than the ones I work with.”
That kind of mental and emotional centering lies at the heart of everything Ramirez shares about her life today and in the future.
“You have your worries and your struggles,” she said, “but as long as you focus on glorifying God and the gifts he has given you, you’re going in the right direction.”
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