“I always knew I wanted to help people,” said Kailey Erkhart, a senior from Denver, Colorado. “I just didn’t know in what way.” Halfway through her degree, she switched her major to social work, and her practicum at Jenda Family Services has affirmed the change was the right choice. “Working hands-on has helped me learn so much about what I want to do as a social worker.”
Jenda Family Services helps Nebraskans break cycles of drug abuse, neglect and other traumas. As a family support worker, Erkhart works with foster children and their families, supervising visitations between the children and their biological families and providing educational resources to parents. “I’ve always loved kids, and I knew I wanted to work with clients one-on-one,” she said. “My internship at Jenda is a great opportunity to work with both parents and kids, and that’s what drew me to it.”
“One of the best parts of my internship was when one of my families actually got reunited with their kids,” Erkhart said. “They went through the whole process and did everything they needed to do, and I was able to be there when their kids were brought back to them. That was very fulfilling and the fact that I got to see that during my internship was awesome.”
Erkhart began her college journey as a biomedical science major, but realized that it wasn’t the field for her. She said, “I wanted to work with more social things, but I still wanted to work one-on-one with people.” Social work was the best match for her ambitions, so she switched majors during her sophomore year. She found that the social work program and its emphasis on hands-on learning was the right fit for her.
“All of my professors are so great,” Erkhart said. “They always make sure we’re doing okay, and they just tell it like it is. Social work is not easy. I see a lot of hard things at Jenda like neglect, abuse and drug use. Our social work professors talk a lot about taking care of yourself and making sure you’re okay, which I really appreciate.”
Erkhart balances her classes and practicum at Jenda with spending time with her family and friends, playing volleyball and gardening. “I’m a plant mom,” she said. After graduation, she will be going to the Metropolitan State University in Denver for her master’s degree. She is planning to specialize in medical social work. “I’ve always been interested in medicine,” said Erkhart. “I’m hoping to work in a hospital coming up with discharge plans and making sure clients have the resources to leave the hospital and be successful. Doing my practicum has helped me learn how I want to move forward in my career.”
by Annika Cambigue, junior communication and English major