Danielle Straka ’09
Director, Robin's Nest Children's Home, Jamaica
Danielle Straka


After graduation, Danielle earned a Master of 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 one of the directors at Robin’s Nest in Jamaica.

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 Partnership 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 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.