North Carolina native Chanell McCain never expected to find herself studying social work in Buffalo, particularly due to her belief that Buffalo “snows too much.” It is thanks to the UBSSW, however, that McCain calls Buffalo her home.
After double majoring in Psychology and French at Meredith College in Raleigh, North Carolina, McCain knew only one thing: “I wanted to help people.”
McCain explains what brought her into the field, saying “I settled on social work because I still wasn’t sure what I wanted to do. Social work would give me the broadest degree that would prepare me either way…I was starting to get into a lot of community things. Not just focusing on the person, but focusing on their environment as well.”
A friend in Buffalo convinced McCain to explore UB and she realized the program had everything she wanted. “I looked up UB and their social work school, it’s higher right now, but at the time it was a high ranking school” she says. UBSSW generalist curriculum was also a factor in McCain’s decision. She explains “it didn’t force me to pick a concentration -- which I didn’t want to because I didn’t know what I wanted to concentrate in.”
“I got accepted and I was brought in for a scholarship which just intrigued me even more. I resigned from my job, I packed up my stuff, I moved from my apartment, I moved to Buffalo, all within the following summer. That’s how I got placed at UB, still not knowing exactly what I wanted to do, still saying I wanted to help people.”
McCain started at UBSSW with intentions of working with adolescents but her experience in the school and throughout her field placements helped her realize a passion for the geriatric population.
McCain credits her ability to adjust to Buffalo’s culture and climate to late UBSSW faculty member Alison Flakes. Being a young woman from the South, McCain says Flakes helped her meet other students in the Student of Color Support Group. Flakes also helped McCain overcome the initial culture shock that comes with moving such a long distance.
McCain acknowledges UB’s influence on the path her life has taken. Her first field placement was with the Alzheimer’s Association where she continued to work part time after the conclusion of her first year in the program. During her second year of the program, McCain was accepted to participate in the Hartford Partnership Program for Aging Education. Through the fellowship, she was placed as an intern at Fallon Health Weinberg where she worked with older adults, connecting clients with resources around the community and assessing mental and physical health. McCain explains “This fellowship played a vital role in my becoming a geriatric social worker and setting a path for me to work with older adults.”
McCain’s employment with the Alzheimer’s Association continued through her second year and, upon graduation, she was offered a full time position which enabled her to follow her newly realized desire to work with the aging population. She has recently been promoted to Director of Community Engagement where she works “to provide more services to underrepresented groups in the area.” McCain says the association is especially interested in helping to educate groups with a higher risk of developing Alzheimer’s that do not currently have supports in place. These at-risk groups include African Americans, Hispanics, Latinos and LGBTQ communities. McCain says “We try to offer more services in general. That could be education classes, that could be support groups, participating in community events like health fairs or forums. It’s as simple, too, as making sure people get newsletters with articles or get a brochure that explains what dementia is.” There is a great deal of outreach involved. She says “it’s a lot of meeting new people, figuring out what connections we have in common” and “figuring out how we can partner together” to address the needs of Buffalo.
While she still thinks Buffalo gets too much snow, and laments over her family asking her to come back to North Carolina, McCain says she loves her work with the Alzheimer’s Association too much to leave.