Danielle Straka ’09Onsite team and intern coordinator
Robin's Nest Children's Home
Kid-friendly After graduation, Danielle earned her master’s in social work degree from Roberts Wesleyan College (Rochester, N.Y.). She worked as a case aide at an adoption agency and as coordinator at a group home for people with disabilities and mental health issues. She also made four trips to Haiti to volunteer at an orphanage—experiences that led her to pray God would open a door for her to work with children full time. He did, and now Danielle is in her second year at Robin’s Nest in Jamaica, where she manages volunteers and interns (some of them social work students) in addition to teaching preschool and special needs children and helping conduct assessments and reports for the country’s Child Development Agency.
In what ways did Northwestern prepare you for the path your career has taken?
My social work practicum was with the Department of Human Services with a social worker who provided case management for children in foster care and for families at risk for having their children placed in foster care. Many times in my jobs since then, I have applied what I learned through that internship. Another impactful hands-on experience was the Spring Service Project trip I took to Mexico. My teammates and I didn’t really know each other before, but we became close, which taught me about the blessing of working hard alongside one another toward the same goal and being open to new friendships. Those lessons have carried over into how I relate with coworkers as well as volunteers who come to Robin’s Nest.
What do you appreciate most about your social work education from Northwestern?
I appreciate the faith perspective the professors incorporated while still challenging us to think critically. I grew so much through witnessing their passion for social work and for Christ. When I was a student, there were two primary professors and 10 to 15 students per social work class. The relationships that developed in that learning environment were something I couldn’t have gotten elsewhere. My professors knew my story and my passions and encouraged and challenged me in the areas I needed it most.
What did you gain from your Northwestern experience beyond just a great education?
What I cherish most are the friendships I made, primarily with the girls I roomed with and who lived on the same floor. The heart-to-hearts, Blue Bunny ice cream runs, dressing up for the Winter Formal—the community that developed between us is something special. To this day the ties are strong, and I’m still blessed by their friendship despite the distance between us.
How do you manage the challenges of your current role, and what is most fulfilling?
No matter what the day brings, I can look back to a year ago and know so deeply that this could only have been arranged by God. The challenges of the kids’ behaviors at times, the never-ending list of things to be done, the distance from my friends and family, and the cultural adjustments—none of those compare to the sweetness of the smiles, hugs and laughter of each child and the blessing of being someone safe for them to share their hearts with. Some days the needs around me are overwhelming; some days it is just pure joy. Either way, taking it one day at a time—not worrying about tomorrow—I know God will provide.
What are your future career plans?
I plan to be at Robin’s Nest at least another year before eventually returning to the United States. When I do return, I may explore working either at an adoption agency or try to get a job in a pediatric hospital setting. I haven’t pursued my clinical licensure yet, so I could do that too. There are so many possibilities within the field of social work!
Heidi Gritters '15 M.S.W. student, Michigan State University School of Social Work East Lansing, MI
Genesis Torres '15 Program facilitator and adolescent case manager, Employment and Community Options Chino, CA
Madison Yohe '15 M.S.W. student, Roberts Wesleyan College Rochester, NY
Erin Anderson '14 Program assistant, Project Homeless Connect San Francisco, CA
Rebecca Boon '14 M.S.W. student, Roberts Wesleyan College Rochester, NY
Abby Guthmiller '14 M.S.W. student, Roberts Wesleyan College Rochester, NY
Sean Guthmiller '14 M.S.W. student, Roberts Wesleyan College Rochester, NY
Jenna Harms '14 M.S.W. student, Western Theological Seminary Holland, MI
Hannah Koster '14 Domestic abuse advocate, Family Crisis Centers Sioux Center, IA
Audrey Wheeler '14 Direct support professional, Easter Seals Iowa Des Moines, IA
Jennifer Kahanic '13 International human rights master's student, Denver University Denver, CO
Tayler Kelly '13 M.S.W. student, Roberts Wesleyan College Rochester, NY
Erica Miller '13 Social worker, St. Francis Community Services Hutchinson, KS
Katie Raab '13 M.S.W. student, Aurora University Aurora, IL
Angie Sas '13 Residential instructor, Hope Haven Sioux Center, IA
Natalia James '12 Owner, Georgeta James Designs Beaver Falls, PA
Abby Stauffer '12 Therapeutic mentor, St. Monica's Women's Recovery Center Lincoln, NE
Nichole Van Dyke '12 M.S.W. student, University of Iowa Iowa City, IA
Stacey Bernardo '11 In-home counselor, Children and Families of Iowa Des Moines, IA
Mattie Raygor '11 Substance abuse counselor, Center for Behavioral Health Des Moines, IA
Marisa Ford '10 Youth specialist, Boys Town Omaha, NE
Donna Keith '10 Life skills specialist, Developmental Pathways, Inc. Denver, CO
Chelsea Regan '10 Social worker, HCR Manor Care Norwalk, IA
Debra Slagter '10 Social worker, Pioneer Care Fergus Falls, MN
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