“I knew I would need more support as a non-traditional student and felt Hilbert College would be better able to offer that,” she said.
She entered the Human Services program with a goal for a career in social work, later earning her master’s degree from the University at Buffalo in 2017.
The ‘Hilbert Difference’ for Lisa was also present outside the classroom where, as a member and later president of the Human Services Club, she was immersed in community work.
“We were active in supporting and learning about the needs of the refugee community as well as the work of Cornerstone Manor (a women and children’s homeless shelter that is part of Buffalo City Mission),” she said. The club hosted campus lectures on important topics that impact whole communities – sex trafficking, domestic violence, and trauma.
This is where her passion for trauma-informed care blossomed, and one club fundraiser was in direct response to this concept.
“I created a craft show for the club so that we could raise money to donate care kits to Haven House (a domestic violence shelter in Buffalo) and other organizations that support people experiencing a crisis,” she said.
Representatives from Crisis Services have been frequent presenters at Hilbert College’s Human Services programs and Lisa knew they always needed care kits. The kits would be provided to persons in an intake space where a small bag of personal care comforts could go a long way.
“It’s an uncomfortable discussion, because the kits are for people who are getting help immediately after a sexual assault or leaving a sex trafficking situation,” said Lisa. “(The Human Services Club) brought those topics to the forefront to make people feel more comfortable that if it happens to you, it’s okay to come forward.”
Breaking down these stigma barriers in a trauma-informed manner was, and still is, key for Lisa, who notes that Hilbert has the luxury of an entire department dedicated to teaching people how to help others all feel safer and heard.
After receiving her master’s from UB’s Institute on Trauma and Trauma-Informed Care, Lisa’s career track revealed a pattern. She has found herself being an ‘agent of change’ of sorts, often as an integral part of teams implementing new, innovative programs.
Her path has included a new program at Spectrum Human Services that brought home visits in the form of clinical services to vulnerable people in their own community. She also was the first social worker hired for an intensive treatment program that was the only dual-diagnosis program in New York state, serving children aged 12-18 with a diagnosis of autism or an intellectual disability paired with mental health challenges.
This past winter, Lisa took a position within the New York state system at Buffalo Psychiatric Hospital. Working for the state provides an abundance of ethics training, said Lisa, all in service to supporting both clients and staff.
Now she brings to her role as the new president of the Hilbert College Alumni Association Board two synergistic ideas: change-making and an intense affinity for caring for people where they are.
“Our mission as the Alumni Association Board is to provide support to students, staff, and faculty,” said Lisa. “We do that by using the knowledge we have gained through our experiences (at Hilbert) and what we have gained in our careers.”
Lisa has maintained her connection to the Hilbert Human Services program by taking on interns and serving as a guest speaker. In 2019, she and other alumni who are counselors provided a different kind of support during the annual Hilbert Reads program. (Hilbert Reads, a tradition since 2013, engages students and creates a sense of community through cross-disciplinary conversations, culminating in a campus lecture event with the book’s author.)
That year, Kate Fagan’s book “What Made Maddy Run: The Secret Struggles and Tragic Death of an All-American Teen” explored the suicide of a young college student. Lisa and her fellow counselors did not hesitate to volunteer to be there when the book’s author visited campus. “The other volunteer clinicians and I were on-hand to provide support for anyone who might feel triggered during the lecture,” she said.
While alumni events have been paused due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Lisa sees this as an opportunity. The Alumni Association Board is now reflecting on how the group can work differently and be more effective in fostering collaboration among all the college’s communities, inside and outside the classroom – alumni, faculty, staff, students, and parents.
This concept is especially close to Lisa’s heart as her son will be a freshman Forensic Science/CSI major at Hilbert in Fall 2021.
“We have to collaborate and decide what we want to look like and what the college needs from us to benefit us all moving forward,” Lisa said.
Hilbert College, she says, has a great head start on implementing this collaborative approach. For example, embracing virtual meetings during the pandemic connected people in a way that phone conference calls could not. As vaccinations increase and more openings follow, Lisa is thinking about how to capitalize on pandemic-pivots to best move forward and keep those connections.
Having joined the Board in 2019 and just 18 months later poised to become the group’s president, she is excited for the opportunity and feels it will be a good fit. “Social workers are creative, and we're meant to bring people together,” she said.
One goal Lisa has is for the Alumni Association Board to advance specific topics by putting board members to work in micro committees that leverage skillsets and affinities. A trauma-informed approach will be one such micro-committee.
“Trauma-informed approaches are all about collaboration and inclusivity,” she said. The approach prioritizes kindness and understanding rooted in the idea that any person may have survived a trauma – knowing what that was is irrelevant.
“It’s basic mental health first-aid training to meet people where they are,” Lisa said. “I want to bring this way of thinking to the activities of not only the Alumni Association Board but also to the college at-large.”