Erica Lee '09 MSW had an entirely different career path in mind after earning an undergraduate degree in Psychology from an Illinois college. A chance meeting with a St. Ambrose Master of Social Work student took her life in a more empowering direction.
"They told me about all the opportunities the St. Ambrose program, and social work in general, could offer," Lee recalled. "I could still go into therapy work if I chose, or I could get into social work. An MSW degree seemed to just provide many more opportunities."
Since earning her MSW degree, Lee has made a difference. She began her social work career as a casework coordinator at Family Resources in Davenport. In 2016, she was promoted to assistant director. Today, Lee is the assistant director of the Safer Foundation Quad Cities.
Headquartered in Chicago, the Safer Foundation is one of the largest nonprofits focusing on breaking the cycle of recidivism. The Safer Foundation offers programs such as career planning, interview training and job placement to help people obtain and maintain gainful employment.
Lee does a bit of everything - grant writing, program planning, and staff training - and draws daily on the core values she learned at St. Ambrose. Understanding and educating others about the deeper issues that cause recidivism is essential, she said.
Safer Foundation helps its clients deal with what Lee calls "collateral consequences." Even after release, they often have difficulty finding adequate housing, employment, education and healthcare. The stigma of having a felony record makes it difficult for clients to fully integrate back into society.
"At Safer Foundation, we don't just look at the individual, but also the systems that navigate around them." Lee said. "We see the impact of systemic racism by the disproportionate amount of people of color we serve every day."
Lee said that the Black Lives Matter protests throughout the country this spring and summer renewed the foundation's focus and dedication. "It's made us ensure that we're giving a voice to the voiceless and advocating for those who have been disenfranchised," she said.
The Safer Foundation Quad Cities recently received a full year of program funding through the federal Second Chance Act Grant. Working closely with Iowa's Seventh Judicial District, Lee and her team will assist individuals in work release programs and residential correctional facilities by providing cognitive therapy interventions, anger management therapy, financial literacy classes, and mentorships.
"We constantly strive to let people know that you're not doomed to be the same person forever," Lee said. "You're not defined by one or a few bad choices, and we're here to help."
-Lindsey Row '16