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Social work students venture into community with purpose

Contributor

Published: Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Updated: Sunday, January 26, 2014 14:01

With the end of the semester approaching, some UNO students may think they have a lot on their plates. However, UNO professor Dr. Jeanette Harder has more than enough to keep her busy through the holiday season.

Dr. Harder works in the Grace Abbott School of Social Work, along with several other faculty affiliates and five of UNO’s MSW graduate students. Throughout her life, Harder claims that she has always had an interested in helping people.

Dr. Harder and company are working together to better the communities around Omaha.  
“Our mission,” Harder said, “is to provide participatory, utilization-focused program evaluation to programs or organizations serving children, youth and families in poverty.”

They are working on seven different projects throughout the greater Omaha area.

“At a university, students are the biggest asset. They have so much energy, so many great ideas, and many have incredible skills and experiences,” Harder said. “It only seems natural that we should partner with students and community organizations in tackling tough social issues.”

Many of Harder’s students first became interested in social work after taking a research method’s class. According to student Marcia Ghali Bergren, Harder, throughout the semester, would send out opportunities for outside-of-the-classroom-work that would further their knowledge in the field. That’s when, Bergren said, she decided to take these opportunities. Soon after, she began working with Harder on bigger projects.

Kristin Ness, also a student working with Harder, is the newest addition to the program and, even though sometimes people try to associate the word “new” with “inexperienced,” this isn’t the case for Ness.

 “The thing about social workers is that they tend to be people-people, a lot of the work is focused on people, and people are hard to measure,” Ness said. “As I went through my classes, I really wanted to learn the right ways to make sure the program is doing what it’s supposed to so that it gets the grants that it needs to keep going.”

One of the organizations that they’re working with is the GOALS center, a nonprofit organization that works with truancy intervention with 11 of Omaha’s school districts. “We’re just at the very beginning stages,” Ness said. “From my perspective, we’re figuring out how to evaluate what’s happening, but also figuring out how to set things up so that they can figure out how to continue evaluating what’s happening.”

Harder is also the co-founder and board president of Dove’s Nest, a nonprofit organization whose mission is to “empower and equip faith communities to keep children and youth safe in the homes, churches and communities.”

But what made Harder so interested in social work? “I grew up a farm in Minnesota, and I have many fond memories of my father and I helping neighbors and strangers, especially in the midst of snow blizzards.” Harder said.

However, that’s not the only thing that compelled her to work with people, Harder said. “My faith also compels me to put feet to Jesus’ words: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself’ and to help people who may not be able to help themselves.”

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