USM Honors Student Finds Meaningful Work Amid Pandemic

This is a partial posting of an article by Marc Glass/USM Public Affairs (“USM Bachelor of Social Work Students Find Purposeful Work Amid the Pandemic”).

Kahla Jusell, of Cape Cod, Mass., says she had nearly completed her program-required 480 hours of fieldwork with Preble Street when the pandemic caused colleges nationwide to send students home and finish the semester via remote learning. Through that field placement with Preble Street, Jusell says she gained experience working one-on-one with clients, helping them secure housing vouchers and Social Security benefits as well as food, clothing and medical care.

Senior B.S.W. major Kahla Jusell, of Cape Cod, Mass., says she’s “proud USM is being part of the solution” by offering Sullivan Gym as a temporary wellness shelter for people experiencing homelessness. (Photo by Marc Glass/USM Public Affairs)

“Being an intern since August gave me a leg up on getting to know the community well and the individual needs of many people,” she says.

Around the time USM offered Sullivan Gym as a temporary wellness shelter, Preble Street offered Jusell the opportunity to shift from intern to per-diem employee. The transition, she says, helped her gain an even deeper appreciation for the plight of the people Preble Street serves and USM.

“Seeing the expressions on people’s faces coming into this huge, roomy shelter with a cot that’s raised off the floor … they’re so grateful. It really brought me to tears,” says Jusell. “I’m really proud to be a USM student right now. I’m proud that USM is being part of the solution.”

Through the end of May, Jusell will continue to help coordinate resources for people experiencing homelessness and ensure their basic needs are met in Sullivan Wellness Shelter. Come June, she will move closer to home to pursue a master’s in social work with a specialization in trauma and violence at Boston University’s Advanced Standing Clinical Program.

Asked if concerns for her own health cross her mind as she goes about her work, Jusell says she understands that being a direct service provider in the age of COVID-19 comes with some risk. But the needs of Preble Street clients and the challenges they face compel her to brush aside any worries about her own well-being.

“Many of the people we’re serving might otherwise sleep in Deering Park,” she says. “I’m more concerned about the remote possibility of being a silent carrier to our clients, than I am of contracting something from them. I am a healthy, able-bodied, young person. If I can provide relief to some coworkers who are immunocompromised, that’s my purpose right now. They are at higher risk than I am.”

— Story by Marc Glass/USM Public Affairs