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Putting the Classroom into Practice

by Kate Sullivan '15

More than 100 Azusa Pacific University students recently participated in the fifth annual Homeless Connect at the Salvation Army in Pasadena. The event brought approximately 60 local social service agencies together for the benefit of the area’s homeless population. APU students worked with Pacific Clinics, the event sponsor, to provide resources. The immersion experience gave APU social work students an opportunity to turn their classroom knowledge into practical application for the betterment of the community.

More than 250 homeless attended and accessed services such as, haircuts, eye exams, flu shots, and medical screenings. In addition, information was available pertaining to veteran affairs, job searches, food banks, and homeless shelters. Participants also enjoyed lunch. APU students played an integral role in managing the event. Some students helped the homeless clients navigate the booths and resources. Others worked in the intake room, collecting information to determine the appropriate services.

Erin Dowling, a junior social work major, said her social work classes prepared her for interacting with homeless clients. “We learned in class that we are called to help those in need, to provide care and offer compassion to assist others through life’s most difficult situations, and when we participate in Homeless Connect we are doing just that."

Homeless Connect built confidence in APU’s social work students. Rukshan Fernando, Ph.D., Bachelor of Social Work Program director, explained the hands–on experience. “Homeless Connect exposed students to elements of the social work profession. Further the event demonstrated commitment to the community. In turn, the social service organizations noticed the quality and professionalism the students possess.”

Barbara Johnson, MSW, LCSW , assistant professor in the Department of Social Work and the initial contact with Homeless Connect, finds there are three important aspects of this event for social work students. “Homeless Connect provides direct interaction with a client population that is often misunderstood or misrepresented,” Johnson said. “Second, students learn about inter-agency collaboration and how that looks in a real situation and lastly, they put the knowledge and skills we present in the classroom into direct practice.” She has found that many students understand social work as their calling after participating in this event.

Homeless Connect is not the only opportunity social work majors have to engage in the community and their future profession. Senior social work students further expand their participation in the social work field and enhance their chances of securing a job upon graduation through the 400–hour internship component of the major. Internships include positions at: hospitals, women’s shelters, homeless relief programs, schools, child protective services, probation and parole, developmental disability services, mental health centers, drug and alcohol abuse prevention and treatment facilities, and senior citizen centers/skilled nursing facilities. These opportunities provide valuable contacts, ensuring social work majors graduate with significant, relevant experience on their résumés.

Azusa Pacific University’s Bachelor of Social Work program is growing. The program, which began with 50 students and now boasts 110 accepted and active students, develops competent generalist social work practitioners who can apply the knowledge, values, and skills of social work, while integrating a Christian perspective, in order to enhance the well-being of diverse individuals, families, groups, organizations, and communities, advancing social justice locally and globally. APU’s social work degree uniquely positions graduates to meet the needs of society and take advantage of plentiful job opportunities and advancement potential.