Helping others: Careers in social work make an impact on families and communities 

Published: December 21, 2023 Author: Jalyn Bolyard

A commonly heard question when we're growing up is, “What do you want to do?” 

Sometimes, a person replies with a career choice – or even a superhero’s name, depending on their age. But a frequent answer to the age-old question is simply, “I want to help people.”

Social work is just one career path that can allow a person to achieve just that. Ohio University offers flexibility and practical knowledge in an array of social work programs. 

Growing up, Lauren Nemeth, BSW ’22, also knew she wanted to help people. She initially began as a biological sciences major when she enrolled at Ohio University Lancaster, but she eventually switched to social work. 

“At the time [of switching my major], I was processing a lot of childhood trauma. It was just a tough situation, and for years I kept it bottled in,” Nemeth said. “In social work, I thought I could help children that were in similar situations I was in.”

Today, Nemeth works through South Central Ohio Job and Family Services, which provides support for three Appalachian counties: Hocking, Ross and Vinton. Nemeth completed an internship in Hocking County before starting as a social services worker in Vinton County after her graduation in spring of 2022.

OHIO offers bachelor’s degree options in social work, including on the Athens campus and regional campuses. 

There is also the master of social work program (MSW), which includes a 100% online option, as well as flexible part-time options for those already in the workforce. 

“I believe most students come into the social work program because they want to help people,” Kelly Vacca, assistant professor of instruction and field director of Online MSW, said. “Sometimes, they have definite ideas of what that will look like, and sometimes, they have no idea other than they want to help. I think it is important for students to recognize that, as social workers, our primary goal is to help support and improve the lives of individuals, families, and communities. As social workers, we make the biggest impact by ensuring clients feel safe and respected.”

The College of Health Sciences and Professions prepares students studying social work to help their communities by being able to assist people from different backgrounds overcome challenges, whether it is a disability, housing concern, substance abuse, employment, mental health treatment and more.  

Lauren Nemeth

An alumna’s impact in rural communities

Nemeth grew up and currently lives in Sugar Grove, Ohio. While the drive to work is 45 minutes long, she wakes up every day being able to accomplish her goal: helping people.

“I can’t picture myself anywhere else,” she said.

Vinton County has a poverty rate of 19.3 percent, almost 6 percent higher than the state’s average poverty rate at 13.4 percent, according to the United States Census Bureau.

Every day, Nemeth uses the skillset she learned at OHIO to make a difference in the families’ lives she serves, including providing resources for mental health, family services, treatment and more.

“I sit down with them and discuss services that can be best implemented for the families. Whether it’s giving providers for parenting classes, drug and alcohol counseling, family or mental health counseling, or even help with housing. In all counties we serve, housing is an issue,” Nemeth said. “I get to build a relationship with the families. That is my favorite part, in seeing them grow.”

While making a case plan is the first step, Nemeth notes that many families face transportation hurdles. Some children are sent to specialized residential facilities hours away, in cities like Columbus or Cleveland. Often, Nemeth has driven parents or babies for weekly visitation.

“Coming in, I knew it was rural and it would be hard to get these families resources, but I don’t think it hit me until I started going on home visits,” Nemeth said. “The families don’t know any different.”

While the hours can be a lot at times, Nemeth lives for the moments of seeing families thrive. 

“We want to make sure kids are safe, stable and they have a permanent place to grow and prosper. It’s tough when it’s little infants or children,” Nemeth said. “You take a negative and hope it turns into a positive. There’s a lot of times you wonder how that family did, and it’s rewarding when one day they pop up somewhere randomly – grocery store or at the gas station – and you see how well they’re doing.” 

Take the next step and make a difference

OHIO’s social work programs allow students to help others and make a difference in the areas and communities they live in. 

“As social workers, we work with some of the most vulnerable populations, which means every interaction we have with them is an opportunity to positively impact their lives, regardless of our specific role or title,” Vacca said. 

Whether you are beginning your career journey with a bachelor’s program or looking to advance your career with the online MSW program, there is an academic program at OHIO ready to help you take the next step.