Sitting at SPoT Coffee, Dan Calabrese jokes about the jump he made from his career in business to becoming a student in UB’s Master of Social Work program. Calabrese originally majored in business at UB and found a job right out of school. Eventually, he realized that he was unhappy. He says, “I bounced around a little a bit, and wound up working where I have been for the past few years. It was in working there that gave me free time, gave me that financial flexibility to not worry about things, get to know myself, get to know my strengths, realized that what I was doing wasn’t going to be fulfilling long term…Just gaining some self-awareness and the mental health counseling kept coming up. I thought that ship had sailed,” Calabrese states. It was not until he found out that he could still do mental health counseling with an MSW that he considered following that path.
Even after doing research on social work, Calabrese says 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 and after the first year I am so happy that I did it. It’s an incredible program,” Calabrese explains. “I came into it with a sort of narrow focus on the mental health counseling, but now that I’ve been exposed to other things like diversity and oppression, addictions, are now things that I am interested in.”
Calabrese completed his first field placement at Friends of Night People, an organization with whom the School of Social Work has a close relationship. Calabrese expressed some initial reservations surrounding the placement, but took comfort in the discomfort and realized that it would result in personal growth. During the placement, Calabrese says he was able to “engage with the people that came in and figure out what they need help with. That could be something as simple as they just need someone to talk to, it 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.” All of these services are in addition to serving meals, offering a food pantry, and a clothing closet for Buffalo’s transient population. Calabrese says it was a “fantastic foundational placement.” He continues, “Simply asking someone how their day was there, it’s a different conversation than with other people that you might encounter. Once you’ve established a relationship with someone they really open up with their stories. There are people that I’ve helped and they’ve certainly helped me.”
When asked about the professors here at UB, Calabrese reflects sentiments frequently heard throughout the program, “I’ve had good professors across the board. “ He specifically singles out Clinical Professors Denise Krause and Sue Green. Of Denise Krause Calabrese says “I have learned so much from Denise…She is brilliant. I don’t know if I have words to explain how much I have learned from her. She is just someone I want to keep learning from.” He goes on to say, “Sue Green was awesome. I want to take more classes with her…she is phenomenal.”
In terms of self-care, Calabrese is celebrating the end of his first year. He says, “I’ve been out in the sun, hiking, reading, I’m so happy to have the time to pleasure read again. I’ve been reading fantasy novels. I recently started whittling; I’m awful at it, but I enjoy it. I created my first project that you can actually tell what it is. It’s a little bird, I gave it to my mom for mother’s day. So I love being in nature, hiking and backpacking, and just finding a quiet place to sit in the woods, and just finding time to be present and not put pressure on myself.”
Upon graduation, Calabrese is focused on clinical social work and states that he has toyed with the idea of “moving to the Pacific Northwest, Colorado, or somewhere different. I’ve been in WNY my whole life and would like to be in a progressive area with great opportunity for nature.”
Calabrese explains a lofty, but worthwhile life-long goal: “I want to do something, just holistic care. Taking the skills that social work develops and just finding ways to help people. I kind of dream of just doing something where I can use, say, 80% of my time for relatively minor general counseling, for people that can afford it or have insurance, and taking the other 20% of my time and donating that and helping people that can’t otherwise afford quality care and do it for free.”