When Sarah Ameigh flew to Honduras in August she carried two suitcases and a carry-on bag. The carry-on held her clothes and personal items, while the suitcases were crammed with fabric. Intended for the women of Tegucigalpa, the capital city, the fabric was destined for use in sewing and crafting small items such as table runners, scarves and tote bags the women sell in order to support their families.
In Honduras, poverty is nearly as rampant as the crime caused by roving gangs – primarily fueled by the drug cartels. With many men caught up in illegal gang activity, or busy working harsh jobs, few children see their fathers; often, siblings don’t even have the same mother and father, Ameigh described. As such, education and empowerment to learn skills that can sustain a family become critical. Indeed, each of the 13 other travelers also flying with Ameigh filled their own suitcases with other supplies, medicine or craft materials needed to benefit the schoolchildren and families they came to serve with the “Border Buddies” mission organization.
The myriad of socio-economic issues facing the families and children in Honduras was a fascinating study for Ameigh, who is completing a bachelor’s degree in social work through Keuka College, studying each week at Corning Community College through the Accelerated Studies for Adults Program (ASAP).
“Social work is all about human service. One of the main goals is to be out there and help promote change and social change,” she said, explaining that the primary purpose of the service trip was to add four new classrooms and a kitchen to a school building used for 250 children ages four through 12. The trip was sponsored through Ameigh’s home church, Victory Highway Wesleyan Church in Painted Post, and was the 30th visit in nine years that members of the church have made to that city and its mission outposts, she said.
According to Ameigh, all 250 schoolchildren had been “plastered in” to just six classrooms and most had no place to eat at school, one of the few places that can help counter the poverty at home. Even so, there are few books, but because the children have no better comparison, they are simply happy to be there, she said.
Like many other locales within the city, the school grounds were gated because of the threat of gang violence. According to Ameigh, the threat was so strong that mission team members were not allowed to go near the gates as they worked on the building repairs in order to ensure their safety. The team members heard that gang initiations often require killing another gang member or a personal family member and learned that only one in three children is safe from the threat of assault.
Building school rooms for the kids provides a safe place to learn, so they can get off the streets and have a good job,” said Ameigh, who missed one week of her ASAP classes to participate in the trip, but had the full support of her professors, Susan Grover Vanpelt and Doyle Pruitt.
While Ameigh completed a bachelor’s degree in accounting in 2002, after a brief stint in the banking industry, she switched jobs and started working for the Steuben County ARC. Ten years later, the passion for her work prompted her to enroll in the Accelerated Studies for Adults Program (ASAP) for a bachelor’s degree in social work. Ultimately, she hopes to complete an MSW degree and become a licensed clinical social worker with a focus in counseling, she said.
On the first full day of service, the mission team set to work transforming the shell into new schoolrooms. While Ameigh helped sand walls, then prime, paint and sand some more, others including her older sister Bethany worked on the roof of the building. As the week, and work, continued, the team – which ranged from two 15-year-old boys to adults in their 50s – made visits to other local schools in the afternoons. While a few women would instruct native women in the sewing and craft techniques, others such as Ameigh would keep the children busy playing games such as soccer, or learning their own arts and crafts.
In contrast to Sarah’s two suitcases stuffed with fabric, Bethany Ameigh carried plastic “melting beads” in her two suitcases, Sarah said. Gathered with string, the beads are melted with an iron into fun shapes, Sarah Ameigh said. The two sisters learned that balloon animals were also quite a draw and that Honduran children have a funny habit of coating their bodies with the colored dust from sidewalk chalk decorating the ground.
Citing her course in human behavior, Ameigh said much of life success is impacted by the environment a child grows up in. The missionary couple hosting the team from New York’s southern tier emphasized especially to men in the group “to be sure to spend time with the kids because fathers aren’t really part of their lives,” said Ameigh.
“Unless something intervenes, they’ll end up in the same situation as their family [members],” she said.
Recalling how the missionary couple described the rescue of one young man, previously living a life of crime and violence, Ameigh said the trip helped show her the value of the career she’s pursuing.
“He’d leave after school Friday, party the whole weekend and come back on Monday. But he’s now part of the youth group, has to show up two nights a week, hold to a certain grade standard, and [sell food] around the barrio to make money,” she described. “The missionaries are saving one life of a child on the streets and now these kids are working and going into a trade there,” she said, comparing the trade system of Honduras to the colleges of America.
“The mission of social work is to help empower people to make change in their own lives – we’re not doing it for them,” Sarah said, citing the women and their training in sewing and crafts as one example.
Despite the shock of the extreme degree of poverty and crime, the children were endearing, Sarah said, recalling one little girl named Jamie who brought Sarah’s sister Bethany a sugar wafer one morning – a small treat that must have cost the little girl nearly all she had – but was so distraught she did not have another for Sarah that she ran, crying, all the way to the store, in order to buy a second treat to share.
“I hated to take it, but they said you should so that these children can learn the empowerment of giving, too,” Sarah Ameigh said. “It was weird coming back because of what we saw. It’s dirty, it’s dangerous and you come back and you’re in culture shock. You look at your house and say, I don’t need this. I don’t need that. It changes you.”
Editor’s Note: Where can a Keuka College degree take you? This is the sixth in a series of snapshot profiles on members of Keuka’s Class of 2014.
Nakita Simons ’14 of Prattsburgh began a new job May 27 as a foster care caseworker for Steuben County Department of Social Services (DSS). The Prattsburgh resident first truly explored the social work field when she conducted her sophomore Field Period™ with DSS and had “a great experience,” Simons said.
The work went so well Simons applied for a high-profile BSW Child Welfare Scholarship from New York’s Social Work Education Consortium in her junior year. Winners of the scholarship are essentially guaranteed a two-year job as a child welfare caseworker with a county DSS agency and can also earn additional scholarship money for a master’s degree in social work, provided all goes well in a semester-long practicum during their senior year. Thanks to her 3.9 GPA and her record of stellar service in multiple volunteer and leadership roles outside the classroom, Simons not only landed the scholarship and job with Steuben County DSS but was named one of six student Social Workers of the Year for the Genesee Valley Chapter of the National Association of Social Workers (NASW). She will be pursuing her MSW online through a program offered by Fordham University.
Simons said she found the College social work program faculty “really helped me to get the most out of my education. They were supportive and encouraging. They got to know you on a personal level and helped me to discover my passion and reach the goals I set for myself.”
At the heart of social work is service to others, and in that dimension, Keuka College senior Nakita Simons sets the standard.
Praised as a natural-born leader, the Prattsburgh resident and social work major coordinates so many special projects for non-profit agencies and organizations between home and school that it can be hard to keep them all straight. For her multitude of service, Simons was recently named one of six student Social Workers of the Year at a regional chapter event for the National Association of Social Workers (NASW). The NASW award recognizes social work students in the New York State Chapter’s Genesee Valley Division who have made significant contributions in the field.
According to Stephanie Craig, associate professor of social work and chair of the College Division of Social Work, Simons “is versatile, dedicated and one of the most diligent new social workers to enter this field. She’s got a lot of social work insight that has just really blossomed and developed through her experience here.”
Just how much does Simons serve? Well, she delivers holiday food baskets for the needy and serves at a bake sale fundraiser for the Howard Union Church. She coordinates Christmas gift deliveries through the Angel Tree project and runs twice-monthly volunteer support at Milly’s Pantry in Penn Yan for the College’s Association of Future Social Workers (ASFW) chapter. The ASFW members also host an annual Hunger Banquet to raise awareness of poverty, and assist the Branchport-Keuka Park Fire Department with their annual Halloween party for local children.
As president of Phi Alpha Theta, the College honors society for social work students, Simons coordinates all fundraising and community service work for the group. The newest venture, slated for April, will be conducting service work on behalf of veterans at the Bath VA Medical Center, she said. Back on campus, Phi Theta Alpha has also given a presentation on veterans’ issues, including mental illness, homeless rates, and other needs. In addition, Simons has served three years as a New Student Orientation (NSO) mentor, logging extra hours on her own to take new freshmen under her wing and show them skills for success.
In addition, Simons, who also served as a biology tutor, maintains a 3.9 grade point average, said Craig who attended the NASW awards banquet with Simons last week.
And the NASW award is not the only one. Simons boasts another prestigious accomplishment: earning a BSW Child Welfare Scholarship from New York’s Social Work Education Consortium. The scholarship carries a two-year employment contract as a child welfare caseworker with a county Department of Social Services agency and the possibility of earning additional scholarship money for a master’s degree in social work, provided all goes well in an initial semester-long practicum. But once again, Simons stands apart. (more…)
Editor’s Note: This is the first in a series of features on recipients of the Judith Oliver Brown Memorial Award. The award, named after the late 1963 Keuka graduate, is supported by Brown’s family and the Class of ’63. It is designed to assist students pursuing a culturally-oriented Field Period™.
Stephanie Taylor, a resident of Huguenot, finds inspiration in “Speak Out,” a poem by Australian author Stacey Blevins.
That is fitting, as the social work major traveled to Sydney, Australia for her January Field Period™. A recipient of the Judith Oliver Brown Memorial Scholarship, Taylor worked at St. Saviours Anglicare, a home for children up to age 17 who have experienced trauma or abuse.
In “Speak Out,” Blevins writes “the power of one voice can change the world,” and Taylor said the poem “strikes a meaningful point to think about; the change you make may not be what’s considered exceptionally massive, but that speaking out can still create a critical and monumental difference. The poem reflects on my personal and professional growth as a senior at Keuka College, and as a future social worker.”
Taylor may have found her voice, and she wanted to use it to help others who might not have their own—particularly children. During her Field Period™ at St. Saviours Anglicare, Taylor observed case management with foster-care professionals in placing troubled youth, touring other agencies, meeting with professionals, and discovering what services are provided. She lived and worked with Julianne Panayi, a social worker at St. Saviours.
“Additionally, I was in Australia during one of Sydney’s largest events, known as the Sydney Festival, that’s full of talent, community, and culture,” said Taylor. “I also assisted Mrs. Panayi in preparing for Australia Day held Jan. 26, the day that Australia was founded as a colony, and is the country’s biggest day of celebration.” (more…)
As a special service to the community, Keuka social work majors assisted the Salvation Army of Rochester during the annual Christmas Assistance Registration, where needy families and individuals sign up for food and toys for Christmas.
Fifteen students, in addition to members of the social work faculty, traveled to Rochester to help the Salvation Army conduct intakes for nearly 300 people who applied for assistance this year. The students conducted interviews, asking a series of questions about income and household expenses, then entered an applicant’s information into a computerized database so he or she could be scheduled for an appointment later in the season when gifts and food are distributed.
The yearly day of service was coordinated by Vikki O’ Connor, assistant professor of social work in the Accelerated Studies for Adults Program (ASAP). Other supporting faculty included Ruthanne Hackman, Julie Burns, Jason McKinney, and Betty Morris-Mitchell.
The annual project has been part of Keuka’s social work program for more than 20 years, and enables the Salvation Army to continue its mission to serve the community. Effectively, Keuka provides additional personnel to the Salvation Army at a time when Red Kettle drives and other efforts under way for the busy holiday season can put a strain on Salvation Army staff.
(All photos courtesy Ruthanne Hackman. For more photos from the day of service, see images below.)