Since 2008, the School of Social Work at the University of Central Florida has been a major partner with HOPE Helps, a nonprofit in Oviedo, by providing many interns over the years.
“They’ve gone from being a small, little storefront to moving into their own facility, which includes a thrift store, food pantry and offices,” said Jacqueline Withers, director of field education for the school.
In appreciation of its 10-year relationship with UCF, HOPE Helps presented the School of Social Work a certificate of recognition in late January.
“It was very special,” Withers said, noting that it was especially rewarding to know that the nonprofit’s current case manager was one of the first interns there.
Heather Goergen, program manager and case manager at HOPE Helps, was among the first social work undergraduate interns in 2009.
“I knew I wanted to do something where I would work with diverse populations,” Goergen said. “It was a really exciting time for the agency, because they were very young and very much a grassroots organization.”
During her internship, Goergen worked with clients, helped with administrative work and assisted in facilitating various outreach programs – duties that she now oversees in her current position.
“You learn things in school and then you put it into practice,” she said. “On the one hand, you realized how much you learned in school and on the other hand, you realize there is so much more to learn.”
Now Goergen, in addition to her other responsibilities, watches and works with interns from UCF at the new HOPE Helps facility.
“It’s always fun to see new interns,” Goergen said. “I remember what it was like as an intern to meet with your first client and being nervous, and seeing where they are when they start interning to where they end up [at the end of the semester].”
Alissa Panzarino is a second year, Master of Social Work student interning at HOPE Helps this spring under Goergen’s guidance.
“It’s cool to know that she [Goergen] was once in my shoes,” Panzarino said. “She knows what I’m going through because she’s been there too.”
Panzarino, who earned her bachelor’s degree in child psychology, was motivated to enter social work following her battle with cancer at the age of 18. While dealing with chemotherapy, surgeries and treatment, a social worker provided support for her and her family.
“I wanted to do something to help other people,” she said, recalling the promise she made to herself during that time. “Social work is all about helping people.”
As an intern at HOPE Helps, Panzarino works as a case manager, handling between 20-30 clients’ cases, assessing needs and providing services. Although the experience can be challenging, unpredictable and fast-paced, Panzarino credits her professors and instructors, particularly Iradly Roche, for preparing her.
“He has done a very good job in the courses,” she said. “It’s really nice to have a really detailed plan. It keeps you on track.”
Panzarino said that the relationship between UCF and HOPE Helps, along with other community organizations, is beneficial to the school and the community. She hopes to see more relationships develop.
“If it wasn’t for UCF, I wouldn’t have known about HOPE Helps,” she said. “It’s pretty awesome that UCF has these connections.”