For 17 years, Graham Botto ’21 worked as a chef in Portland. He had a lot of success, but not a lot of time for family. And he was troubled by what he saw around him during his 60-to-80 hour weeks — employees with little access to mental health care, people who were marginalized, people who wound up with more troubles because they couldn’t get the help they needed early on.
“I wanted to help people with their mental health and help them lead a productive life,” he said.
This spring, Botto, 35, will graduate from USM with a Bachelor of Arts in Social Work. His goal: Help implement the change he wanted to see for so long.
Married, with a young son, Botto pushed through six classes at a time most semesters, determined to finish his degree as quickly as possible. But he didn’t spend all his time in class, and he didn’t wait until graduation to start helping people.
Botto started a local SMART Recovery meeting for people seeking cognitive-behavioral help with addiction.
He worked as a peer recovery coach for people dealing with substance use issues.
He worked as an intern with Spurwink’s ShifaME program, helping immigrant and refugee kids and families stabilize their lives as they deal with trauma from their past.
"In our area, refugee and asylee families face some of the biggest barriers. By working with that community, I hope that I can help new Mainers access what they need to live a happy life," he said. “Hopefully the knowledge and skills clients get from working with Shifa will spread to those around them and they will be agents of change in their own communities.”
Botto graduates this spring, but he won’t be out of school for long. He plans to earn a Master’s Degree in Social Work, with a focus on trauma-focused clinical work. Long term, he wants his own practice focused on clients who have bipolar disorder, schizophrenia and other schizoaffective disorders.
“I hope to work with everyone, but as a person whose life has been affected by bipolar disorder I have experience and knowledge that I believe makes me better able to help people experiencing mood disorders and psychosis," he said. "I just hope that I can help people build skills to make the changes they want in their lives and be happy.”