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College of Social Work

  • Master of Social Work student Elise Maglione

How One Student’s Passion for Adults with Intellectual Disabilities Started with Ceramics

Master of Social Work student Elise Maglione knew she wanted to work in the social work field since high school. She began her undergraduate social work studies at Winthrop University but was unsure of focus area. However, a simple task with ceramics made a significant difference in her future. 

Maglione’s mom worked in a nursing home and her father was an executive director for various nonprofits. She often volunteered where her parents worked and being in those environments piqued her interest in working in a profession interacting with others.  

“I originally wanted to be a teacher but doing lesson plans didn't sound interesting,” Maglione says. “My high school guidance counselor asked me if I had thought about social work since I was interested in helping others. I had no idea what social work was, but after doing some research, I realized it was everything that I was looking for and a perfect fit. Since I started college, social work is the only thing I could ever see myself doing.”

Maglione felt overwhelmed during her freshman year at Winthrop while considering the different facets of the social work field. But that changed the summer after her sophomore year in 2017 when she began working at Programs for Exceptional People in Bluffton, South Carolina, where her father was the executive director. The program promotes independence, social interaction, and employment opportunities for adults living with intellectual disabilities. Maglione’s father originally needed some extra hands in the ceramics department, which was one of the microbusinesses that provided job training skills and allowed clients to be integrated into the community. 

“I didn’t know anything about ceramics, and there was only person helping when I started,” Maglione says. “But I enjoyed forming relationships with the clients, watching them develop different skills, and seeing how excited they were creating ceramic products. They were aware of their disability but didn’t care and were unafraid of being themselves. Building relationships was a big factor in realizing that this was my passion and the population that I wanted to work with.”

Maglione also enjoyed driving clients to a local farmer’s market to sell their ceramics. It was touching for her to watch how proud each client was of their work and the time and energy they put into their products. 

“Taking some of the clients to the farmer’s market allowed me more one-on-one time to build on relationships,” Maglione says. “The program’s goal is to integrate each client into the community through a community-based program. Watching them interact and being one with the community, instead of being ostracized as they have been historically, and seeing the pride on their faces while people were buying their products was enjoyable.” 

Maglione continued to work at Programs for Exceptional People during her breaks from Winthrop. Her father had worked with adults with intellectual disabilities for most of his working life, and her nephew has severe autism. While she was comfortable working with this population, the experience of working for her father only solidified her understanding of the valuable contributions by those with intellectual disabilities.  

“Some people’s misconceptions come from a lack of understanding of adults with intellectual disabilities and how they have been historically viewed as people sheltered together who are not able to do anything,” Maglione says. “Supporting them and not focusing on the stigma associated with intellectual disabilities is important. They are some of the kindest people with the biggest hearts.” 

Working with adults with intellectual disabilities can be a rewarding experience. Her advice for anyone aspiring to work in this area is to have an open mind. 

"It's important to not have the mindset that you have to baby them and constantly ask if they need something. They are adults and can make their own decisions and have self-determination,” Maglione says. “Be open-minded that independence and empowering them to make their own decisions and live their lives as adults is the ultimate goal.”

Maglione plans to work with adults with intellectual disabilities after graduating this May. And her decision can be traced back to what she thought would only be helping with ceramics.

“Working for my dad was a job that changed my life,” Maglione says. “I wouldn't have the same goal and passion for social work and wouldn’t be on the same path that that I’m on now.”

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