Two Newman Master of Social Work students are supporting Wichita’s most vulnerable population through a field practicum internship with the city of Wichita.
The Newman MSW program has affiliation agreements with several agencies in both Wichita and Colorado Springs, which give students real-world social work experience in hospitals, schools, correctional facilities and more.
Serving populations in need
In early 2022, Idalia Gomez and Sister Sarah Harbaugh, ASC, each completed a competitive interview process for Wichita’s Department of Housing and Urban Development. Not long after, the two Newman University students were hired as employees.
They have since worked hand-in-hand with the Homeless Outreach Team with Wichita police officers to assist those who are unhoused in the community. Once each week, they ride with members of the Wichita Police Department to provide on-site services for those in need.
“I have been able to do all levels of social work in this position,” said Harbaugh, a sister of the Adorers of the Blood of Christ. “I work on the micro-level when working with individuals to obtain and maintain housing; the mezzo-level by working with other partner agencies to be able to achieve the best outcomes with clients. Macro work has included collaborations with the wider community.”
As Harbaugh described, the valuable internship experience can be “unpredictable.”
“You never know what is going to happen,” she said. “Some of the days are filled with being in the office and completing paperwork and referrals to help obtain vouchers for unhoused people. Other days we are completing home visits to assist those who are housed to maintain their housing.”
Working as an intern alongside the Homeless Outreach Team has made Harbaugh realize there must be a partnership between social workers and police officers.
“We all have what we are good at doing and when we work together, great things can happen,” she said.
Building community through social work
According to Jennifer Jones, former director of field education at Newman, “it’s a great partnership that has shown the city the need for social workers.”
It is also the start of more practicum opportunities in community centers to come.
“Our students are getting some grassroots experiences with this vulnerable population and are learning more about the needs and challenges faced in helping the homeless in Wichita,” Jones added.
Gomez said that knowing what resources are available for citizens of Wichita and learning about city ordinances in relation to parks, unhoused individuals and panhandling have been “an eye-opener.”
“It has truly been a pleasure working with the Homeless Outreach Team,” Gomez said. “They care about their job and even if they can’t help with the resources they have, they will try and reach out to others who might be able to help.”
Gomez and Harbaugh agree they have learned more than they thought possible in the course of their first semester of the internship.
“The city of Wichita is amazing and it has some selfless individuals who give and expect nothing,” Gomez said. “I have had clients that have just met the right person and their whole life has changed. I have made some great friendships and connections with many businesses and professionals and I’m sure those relationships will help one day in my profession.”
Earn a degree in social work
Social work is not just a job, it is a helping profession rooted in dedicating oneself to continuous growth, learning, change and becoming the best version of yourself.