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Master of social work students support vulnerable adults while gaining real-world experience.

A caring spirit, a desire to help others – this is the heart of the social work profession.

Widener University’s master of social work program nurtures that spirit not only in the classroom, but through hands-on clinical experiences that give students the opportunity to serve Chester’s most vulnerable individuals.

“Social work principles are not just being taught,” said Crystal Reed, a dual degree master of social work and human sexuality education student. “They are being lived in this program.”

Graduate students can serve in Widener’s Social Work Counseling Services (SWCS), a human services agency created in 2000 to improve the quality of life for Chester citizens and train students to ultimately be competent and caring social workers.

In 2013, the Clinical Services for Vulnerable Adults (CSVA) clinic was formed under SWCS to increase the number of social workers serving people with intellectual disabilities.

"This is a trauma-based clinic, and our goal is to work with people who have intellectual disabilities, people who are homeless or at risk of becoming homeless, as well as their families, friends and caregivers in an attempt to build a healthy support system for vulnerable adults," said Dr. Beth Barol, an associate dean in the Center for Social Work Education.

The clinic is poised to prepare even more future social workers and provide greater assistance to the community after recently receiving a $660,000 grant from the U.S. Health Resources and Services Administration.

Over four years, the Behavioral Health Workforce Education and Training grant will fund 10 student intern positions in the clinic per year. The interns will receive training so they can mentor new interns for the upcoming semesters.

Reed and Madgean Barosy, an online master of social work student, are the first interns to serve clients under the grant.

Barosy sees the additional resources as an opportunity to not only put into practice the lessons from her online classes, but a chance to give back to the community.

"I've always had hardships in life, but what helped me were people who I felt were unofficial social workers in my life," she said. "Having that kind of experience with people really makes you want to give back and put yourself in a position where you can provide for others in the way they provided for you."

Reed also feels fortunate to be part of the clinic’s beginning stages and to witness its process. The clinical and program development skills she is obtaining will be valuable throughout her entire career.

Shanna Williams, director of CSVA, said the goal is to have students graduate excited about their future profession.

“We want them to be dedicated to vulnerable and oppressed populations, and under our supervision, we want them to develop a compassion and love for the work they do,” Williams said.