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College of Social Work

  • Raven Martin, MSW '21

Homeless Populations Influence One Student’s Social Work Path

July 20, 2020
Chris Woodley •

Advanced Standing student Raven Martin did not choose social work as her first or second undergraduate major. But it only took one social work class at Ferrum College in Virginia for Martin to discover her passion for social work. An internship also had a major impact which helped her focus on a career helping homeless populations.

“I had life experiences growing up where social workers were involved,” Martin says. "I've always been the type of person that people can talk to. Once I started taking social work classes, it was a perfect fit, and I started being more successful academically.”

As Martin prepared for a three-week summer internship course last year, she was unsure of where she wanted to complete her field experience. While she knew her future would be in social work, she did not have a specific interest.

“I just told my advisor to place me anywhere. I told her that I’ll try new things and really didn’t have an interest or dislike,” Martin says.

She was placed at the New Day Center, a homeless drop-in day center for young adults aged 18-24, in nearby Roanoke, Virginia. Martin was nervous at first because of how she would be perceived since she was in the same age group as those utilizing the center.

“I had a car, a place to live and went to school. I thought about all of those things, and it really took a toll on me because I didn’t want them to portray me as selfish,” Martin says. “But once I started working at the center, I knew that this was the population I wanted to work with. They just needed so much guidance and attention in a good way, and adequate love and support that they never had previously. My manager opened my eyes to the homeless population and how much it’s underserved.”

Martin described her internship as a kind of ‘love at first sight' because she immediately knew working with homeless populations was a perfect fit. She also enjoyed outreach programs, which included providing bottles of water and hygiene bags and informing the homeless population between the ages of 18-24 of the New Day Center. But she also provided resources and other homeless agencies to others who were outside the age range.

“Some people think of social workers as only for children and the elderly, but they never think about the people in-between,” Martin says. “They need social workers just as much as anyone else, and that’s why I want to pursue a career working with young adults. It's about helping someone, how I can provide for families or just being there for support.”

Martin developed a passion for helping the homeless, but attending graduate school was initially not part of her plans. She had applied for an international consultant job within her sorority. At the same time, College of Social Work recruiter Steven Cote traveled to Ferrum to present and provide more information about the MSW program. Both Martin and Cote also attended Rally in the Valley, a two-day event for social work students throughout Virginia.

“I just felt like South Carolina was home. The brochure and all the information presented made it look like I would fit in there,” Martin says. “Everything worked out because I did not get the job with my sorority, and I was accepted to South Carolina, which was my number one choice.”

As part of the Advanced Standing program, Martin started graduate classes in June, less than a month after graduating from Ferrum. But for Martin, it was easy for her to pick up after a short break and begin her graduate studies.

“I was bored and needed something to do during that month break,” Martin says. “I was thinking, ‘If this month doesn't hurry up, I don't think I'll be motivated to keep going.’ Moving from Virginia to South Carolina the weekend before classes started was the most difficult transition but starting classes has felt like normal.”

Martin and the rest of her Advanced Standing cohort were also forced to complete their undergraduate studies online, due to COVID-19. For Martin, the most difficult part of virtual learning was completing her internship hours at Child Protection Services, where she felt like an employee. While Martin admits virtual classrooms is a little more difficult than in-person learning, she has handled the transition well in both undergrad and graduate studies.

“I still feel like I'm getting a good discussion with different professors and peers, but it's just not the same,” Martin says. "Social work is hands on, especially the field experience. It would be better to be in the classroom right now, but it's not as hard as completing an internship online.” 

The College of Social Work has also provided Martin with the opportunity to continue working with homeless populations. In addition to serving as a graduate assistant for Assistant Professor Kristen Seay, she was awarded a work study for Homeless No More. The Columbia-based organization provides emergency services, and transitional and affordable housing to help prevent family homelessness.  

“My job is to help with the summer camp and supervise kids throughout the day so their parents can go to work, the store, or meet with a case manager,” Martin says. “Building relationships is our main goal, followed by teaching life lessons.”

Martin’s experiences in Virginia and South Carolina have helped shape her future of working with and serving vulnerable populations. She aspires to eventually open a nonprofit organization with a familiar mission, a drop-in day center for homeless 18 to 24-year old clients.

“I would love to start it as a day center and expand to a safe place where we could house homeless and have them stay the night,” Martin says. “It would have the same organizational structure and regulations as the place where I worked in Virginia. That would be my dream job.” 

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