This series highlights the internships of three Walla Walla University social work majors during the 2017-18 academic year. (Part three of three.)
Few people are willing to orient their lives around service. Andrew Riley, who graduated from Walla Walla University with a bachelor of social work degree in June, is one of them. A military veteran and a father, he has built a reputation for serving his country, his family, and his community.
For eight years, Riley served in the infantry in the U.S. Marine Corps. He was stationed in Ramadi, Iraq, in 2005, and when he eventually left the Marines, he held the rank of sergeant. After returning home, Riley struggled to apply his combat skills to the civilian workforce. “Nobody cares how fast you can load machine guns and how good you are with explosives,” he said. “I realized that I was kind of pigeonholed in my career.”
Riley decided to enroll in college and “remake” himself. He knew he needed to choose a major that would prepare him to serve others. “I felt like I needed to give after taking for a while.” He joined the social work program because of its versatility and focus on others.
Gaining social work experience
When the time came to think about his senior practicum, Riley approached the field director for the School of Social Work and Sociology with a couple requirements: He didn’t want to sit in a cubicle and he wanted a placement that allowed him to work with youth. He feels strongly that if disadvantaged people can get the help that they need during their teenage years, they will be better equipped to handle life’s challenges.
After weighing Riley’s interests, the field director found him a match. Enter: the Children’s Home Society of Washington. For the duration of the 2017-18 academic year, Riley interned for the Children’s Home Society with a placement at the Walla Walla County Juvenile Justice Center.
His day-to-day work involved shadowing his supervisor and building relationships with youth. Some days that meant checking in on teenagers in the detention center, other days that meant doing home visits around the Walla Walla Valley to counsel youth with no transportation.
Riley began his internship with limited knowledge about the juvenile justice system, and he approached each task with a readiness to learn. In alignment with his practicum, he spent his senior year researching juvenile justice, recidivism rates, and the efficacy of mental health treatments.
Through his research and experience, he came to a discouraging realization: “Juvenile justice seems to be a blindspot in the American public’s vision.” Incarcerated youth face a host of challenges that the general population doesn’t see. Organizations like the Children’s Home Society offer detained juveniles a chance to air their grievances and have productive conversations, but Riley says there’s still a deficit of social workers willing to work with this population. He hopes that will change.
Volunteering in the community
Riley doesn’t limit his passion for others to the classroom or the office—he seeks ways to serve other populations in Walla Walla outside of his degree requirements. Every Wednesday, he volunteers at the Sleep Center, a homeless camp operated by the Walla Walla Alliance for the Homeless. The reason? He wants to understand their environment and get a better idea of what homeless people need. Plus, he noted, the Sleep Center can always use extra hands.
“I believe that the mentally ill and the mentally distressed populations of this community are being underserved,” Riley said, “and I want to help rectify that in any way that I can.”
Riley will continue his education in WWU’s master of social work program this fall. In the near future, he hopes to get a job at the Veterans Affairs Hospital in Walla Walla. His experience with juvenile justice, homeless populations, and military veterans will help him later in his career. He plans to eventually open an office where he can do medication management and help members of the community get proper care.
People are drawn to the social work profession for a number of reasons—for Andrew Riley, helping people is reason enough. It’s the force that has guided him for the past 33 years, and it’s the force that will continue to guide him through his professional career.
To learn more about the social work program at WWU, visit the Wilma Hepker School of Social Work and Sociology web page.
Posted July 5, 2018