At Your Service

#formerstudentFriday is an occasional series in which former students and I team up on topics of their choosing. Through their voices and perspectives, we can level up in everything we do.

Caitlin Porter was my first ever “hire.” As a senior in my journalism class, I tabbed her as editor-in-chief because she was just that talented. She was my eyes and ears, she was my proofreader, and, to be honest, I was really her second-in-command. Her story reminds me so much of Garrett’s and Kaylee’s because all three remind us that the most direct paths are often the longest and most winding.

Throughout high school, undergrad, and graduate school, I prided myself on earning the highest marks I could. I spent countless hours pouring over research, reading articles and books, writing papers, creating study cards, and taking exams. I earned scholarships for further education, four academic honor societies, including Phi Beta Kappa, Magna Cum Laude recognition and a 4.0 GPA in graduate school.  This sounds great, right? It is great in many ways; however, what I have learned outside of the classroom has equal if not greater value.

As a student at Catholic University of America, I tried to find opportunities that would promote growth as a person, but it was not until a mission trip to Belize that I realized that deep in my heart, I knew that serving others is what I wanted to do in life.  In Belize, CUA students and I helped renovate a Catholic school during our first week and tutored them in language arts during the second. Interacting with the students and their families proved to me that there are simple joys to life, much beyond wealth and materialistic belongings.

During the fall semester of my senior year, I attended a long term service fair out of curiosity. There, I met the director of Colorado Vincentian Volunteers, who sold me on the idea that my foreign language background (French) and desire to help others could be utilized by volunteering forty hours per week at Lutheran Family Services Refugee and Asylee program.  With my family’s support, I left to pursue a year of service among the underserved in Denver, CO.

Working with refugees for the following 11 months would be one of the most rewarding, yet emotionally taxing experiences in my life. I was able to watch the resettlement process from start to finish, encounter cultures I had only ever dreamed of, and hear stories of heartbreak, determination, and hope.  I remember sitting with one gentleman from the Democratic Republic of Congo who had been struggling with his physical health. He and his wife had many children and neither could hold a minimally paying job, leaving them with accruing bills every month. This gentleman, a tailor by trade in Africa, told me that life in America was far more difficult than he ever expected and that returning to his homeland, despite the violence, would be easier because he would be able to provide his family with a decent life. A few weeks after our conversation, he secured a job in tie production at a tie company that prided itself on providing unique employment opportunities to refugees. Recently, I found out that he is now the production manager at this company three years later and is thriving.

A year of service inspired me to learn more about helping others and I returned to Rutgers University to work on my Master’s in Social Work, with a vigorous class schedule and 2 internships. It was in graduate school that I learned more about the populations I could and could not work with. Now, almost two years as a psychiatric social worker, I continue to discover more about what this world needs and how I can best serve the underserved populations. Without my experiences that have come outside of and in conjunction with the classroom, I would never have discovered where my passion lies or created a career that allows me to be inspired by my clients while giving them opportunities to advance in life.

Caitlin Porter has a Bachelor’s in French Language and Literature from The Catholic University of America and a Master’s degree in Social Work from Rutgers University. She currently works at Northbrook Behavioral Health Hospital as a psychiatric social worker and serves as the Healthcare Ethics Committee co-chair and liaison to Rutgers University for MSW interns. In Caitlin’s free time, she often self-cares by running long distances, traveling, and baking!