Dan Calabrese made a big when he switched from a business career to becoming a student in UB’s Master of Social Work program. After majoring in business, and starting his career, Calabrese realized that he was unhappy. After bouncing around through a few jobs, he found one that gave him financial flexibility and the freedom to get to know himself and his strengths. “I realized that what I was doing wasn’t going to be fulfilling long term,” Calabrese said. “After gaining that self-awareness, the mental health counseling kept coming up.” When he found out that he could do mental health counseling with an MSW, he began to seriously consider that path.
Even after researching a social work education and career, Calabrese said he was “terrified” of quitting the comfort and security of his job. Since then, his perspective has shifted. “I knew that social work would align with my strengths,” he said. “After the first year, I am so happy that I did it. It’s an incredible program. I came into it with a sort of narrow focus on mental health counseling, but now that I’ve been exposed to other things like diversity, oppression and addictions, that’s what I’ve become interested in.”
Calabrese first field placement was with Friends of Night People, an organization with which the School of Social Work has a close relationship. Calabrese had initial reservations surrounding the placement, but, acknowledging his discomfort, realized that it would result in personal growth.
During the placement, Calabrese was able to “engage with the people who came in and figure out what they need help with,” he said. “That could be something as simple as needing someone to talk to—we may be their only social outlet for the day; they really appreciate that. Some people need help with housing, others need help filling out benefit applications, SNAP, Social Security, whatever it may be. Some people need someone to go to the Department of Social Services, so we do that.”
Friends of Night People also serves meals and offers a food pantry, and a clothing closet for Buffalo’s transient population. Calabrese said it was a “fantastic foundational placement.” “Simply asking someone how their day was there is a different conversation than with other people who you might encounter,” he added. “Once you establish a relationship with someone they really open up with their stories. There are people that I’ve helped—and they’ve certainly helped me.”
With reference to the SSW faculty, Calabrese reflects frequently expressed sentiments : “I’ve had good professors across the board.” He particularly praises Clinical Professors Denise Krause and Sue Green. Of Denise Krause, Calabrese said, “I don’t have words to say how much I’ve learned from Denise…She is brillian—someone I want to keep learning from. And Sue Green was awesome. I want to take more classes with her…she is phenomenal.”
As Calabrese celebrated the end of his first year, he took time for some self-care. “I’ve been out in the sun, hiking, reading,” he said. “I’m happy to have the time to read for pleasure again. I started whittling; I’m awful at it, but I enjoy it. I created my first recognizable project, a little bird, which I gave to my mom for Mother’s Day. I love being in nature, it allows for finding a quiet place in the wood; time to be present and not put pressure on myself.”
Upon graduation, Calabrese is focused on clinical social work. He has toyed with the idea of moving someplace like the Pacific Northwest or Colorado. “I’ve been in Western New York my whole life,” he said. “I’d like to be in a progressive area with great opportunities for nature.”
To sum up, Calabrese explained a life-long goal: “I want to do something around holistic care. I’d like to take the skills that social work develops and find ways to help people,” he said. “I dream of doing something where I use, say, 80% of my time for general counseling, for people who can afford it or have insurance. The other 20% of my time I’d donate to help people who can’t otherwise afford quality care.”