Kaleea Alston-Griffin '04 majored in a sociology before earning her M.S.W. from the University of Connecticut School of Social Work. Now a social work clinician, she works with children (ages 9-18) in foster care in the Hartford, Conn. area. Additionally, she has served on the Parent Teacher Organization at her children’s school and on the board of the local town soccer club. She’s been a coach, assistant coach and manager of multiple children’s sports teams. An advocate and ally for families in her community, she operates under the philosophy that it takes a village to raise a child.
What are the most challenging and rewarding aspects of your career or volunteer activities?
It is challenging working within a system that has so much room for growth, is underfunded, involves a vulnerable population and has a stigma attached to it. The system of foster care relies on others to open their hearts and homes to provide care to make the system operate. But it is incredibly rewarding to be able to work with children and families and to make such an impact in their lives. When a child I worked with when they were younger tells me the impact I made in their life, there is no greater feeling. All of the hard work, dedication, sleepless nights and long hours are all worth it in that moment and moments like those!
Who inspired/inspires you, both professionally and personally?
As a child, I looked up to Mother Teresa. She was one of the original social workers, she was a person of the people. She spent her life in service of others and I admired that about her. I tried to emulate her in many different ways, sometimes it was a bit peculiar. I wanted to be her for Halloween. A quote of Mother Teresa’s I like is, “Let us always meet each other with smile, for the smile is the beginning of love.” My father, who also inspired me, believed in the power of a smile, too. I offer the same warm smile to the person asking for change as I do to the CEO of the company that employees me. This is because a smile cost me nothing and comes with no judgment. I have an unlimited supply and it often comes with a smile back in return!
What advice would you offer today’s women students, not just at Union, but across the country?
It’s important to have other women to speak to about your passions. Find other women who can be positive influences while you embark on this journey. College is an experience that is both exciting and challenging. It’s important to have a support system in place. Every woman, every person, needs a cheerleader. Someone other than their parents who is encouraging them when times get hard.
What was your most formative experience at Union?
Having a child the summer before my senior year, being supported by faculty and successfully graduating and going to graduate school. While I was at Union I realized I was able to achieve anything as long as I put my mind to it. Also, the experience of gaining true unconditional friendship at Union is something that still keeps my heart full. I had a handful of close friends who helped me with emotional support during my pregnancy and once my daughter was born. I have remained in contact them. I am so thankful to have them as family for me and both of my children. Union College was just that for me – a union of and between people. “Under the laws of Minerva, we all become brothers and sisters.” How true Union’s motto has been for me. These are bonds that will last our lifetimes and those of our children.