1000 E. University Avenue
College of Health Sciences
Laramie, WY 82071
Ninth and Clark Streets
College of Health Sciences
Laramie, WY 82071
Nicole, I know that you’re an alum of our BSW and MSW programs here at the University of Wyoming, Nicole, but I wonder if you would start out by telling me about Cathedral Home.
Cathedral Home for Children has been around since about 1910, when we were started by the Episcopal Church as an orphanage. That was a time in Wyoming history when many families were utterly destitute and often needed a place where they could leave their children while they got back on their feet. The Bishop, Nathaniel Seymour Thomas, found himself with all these kids and felt he had to respond to that need. The home was originally located in Hunter Hall in downtown Laramie, part of the St. Matthew’s Cathedral complex, but then in 1973 it moved out here to the north side of town.
Wow, I bet there was nothing around this building back in 1973!
Yes, we had no neighbors back then! We expanded soon after and took on the Laramie Crisis Center, and then started building different cottages and focused on providing therapeutic services for families. Today we operate along a full continuum of care: we provide prevention with all of our community-based services, our Crisis Center, and we also provide aftercare, so once children leave any of our programming, it’s our goal that they remain successful and don’t end up back in the system.
A lot of people don’t realize that Cathedral Home operates the Laramie Crisis Center. There has always been a perception that we just do residential treatment, but we want the best for our community’s youth and families, and sometimes someone must intervene and help children before they end up in the system, or in need of intensive services.
Tell me about how you got started in your social work career.
Well, I grew up with
a social worker mom and a dad who was a police officer. I had lots of opportunities
to watch and work alongside my Mom in her different fields. She always loved
every job she had as a social worker. I also saw my Dad dealing with people
every day on the “other” side of it. My future career was sort of a family joke:
my Mom would say, “Oh, she’s going to be a social worker,” and Dad would
retort, “No, she’s definitely going to be a cop.”
I certainly knew I wanted to help people—I think that’s what every social worker wants to do—but a big draw for me was flexibility. Once you get your professional degree, you can work in any area or setting and change throughout your career. For example, if I decide to be a teacher, I’m pretty much always a teacher, but as a social worker, I can be a social worker in a hospital, school, or all kinds of different places. I saw my mom enjoying that flexibility, and that was appealing to me. I said, “that’s what I’m going to do with my life.”
Why did you decide to come to UW to study social work?
I’m from Colorado, and I picked my college based on social work programs and proximity to home. I looked at D.U. and CSU; they have big social work programs, but I felt that Wyoming’s generalist program was best for me. I like the flexibility of not having to specialize in one area, I liked Laramie and being out of--but still close to--Colorado. So, I came up here. I had a plan: I was going to do four years, get my BSW and then do my Master’s in my fifth year, and then I’d be practicing! I really enjoyed the BSW program and was assigned a practicum at the Crisis Center. As it turned out, I ended up actually finding my niche, falling in love with the Crisis Center and Cathedral Home as a result.
I applied for graduate school at the end of my BSW, as that was always part of my plan. A professor said to me, “You know, Nicole, you really need a year in the field before you start grad school.” I said, “No, that doesn’t fit with my plan, I want my masters first!” He said he wouldn’t tell me not to apply, but was pretty insistent that an extra year in the field would make grad school a whole different experience. Well, I didn’t get accepted! As it turned out, it was probably one of the best things that happened to me. I was offered some choices: either a job with DFS [Department of Family Services] doing intensive supervised probation, or staying with Cathedral Home for Children and doing life skills work with the kids in the residential program. I decided that I wanted to continue working with kids, so I took the job with Cathedral Home and have been here since. I worked full time for a year, then reapplied to the graduate program at UW, and this time I was admitted. The lapse turned out to be a good thing. With students I mentor now, I tell them, “Trust me: get some field experience.” When you go to graduate school with that extra time in the field, everything has a different meaning and feel. It’s so different from reading out of books or hearing your classmates’ stories.
I know the faculty here like to see their graduate school applicants coming in with some field experience, so that sounds like great advice!
What I’ve learned from working with practicum students now, they really are encouraging students to take that extra time. When you have the experience, you realize how valuable it is. I encourage students to keep working—it makes them better social workers.
So, it sounds like that accidental blip in your educational process was something you were able to use to your advantage. Can you tell me anything else about how your social work degree has helped you in your job?
Oh, in so many ways! I have worked with many social workers who are specialists in certain areas, and their expertise is fabulous, but I am so grateful for my generalist perspective. I think it’s helped me get to the position I’m in, helped me to see the bigger picture, to look at policy from many different levels, and to look at the needs of clients with a variety of different problems. I’m not just wrapped up in, say, substance abuse or mood disorder or family dynamics. The organizational and group work they had us do at UW helped inform what I do here at Cathedral Home. That big picture view has been really helpful for me.
So, if you were able to work anywhere else on the planet—what would you want to do?
You know, when I was promoted to executive director I never imagined myself reaching this point. I never had a specific career “goal” or a thought like “O.K., at this time in my life, I want to be ___.” I ultimately just want to be effective, helpful and supportive and I want to make people’s lives better in whatever way I can. I sometimes wonder what my dream job would be! I think it would be working two days a week! However, I do like working, and I love the different programming elements that we offer here at Cathedral Home for Children. It keeps things interesting and fresh, and opportunities continue to come up, so I don’t feel as though it’s the same-old, same-old.
So, you don’t see yourself as Secretary of Health and Human Services in 20 years?
No, NO! I sure don’t! But I always will continue to do my best, and rise to the occasion, if need be!