Salve Success: Caroline Parks, senior social work major
Caroline Parks ’20 first visited Salve Regina when she was about 8 years old. Her older cousin, Samantha Messmer ’12, went to Salve Regina, and when Parks visited Messmer for the first time on the University’s campus, she absolutely fell in love with the campus and Newport, Rhode Island. Her heart had already made its decision; years later, Parks’ mom had to physically drag Park to look at other universities when she was a junior and senior in high school.
“The location, the mansions, everything was just perfect,” said Parks. “My cousin … mentioned how it was a really tight-knit community and how the classes were smaller and the professors knew her name, so seeing that sense of community and knowing I was going to have a one-on-one connection with professors and other students was really … my number one reason for coming here.”
Falling in love with service at Salve Regina
At first, Parks was a double major in marketing and business administration with a sports management minor, but she soon became highly involved in the Center for Community Engagement and Service. This ended up changing her career goals entirely.
“I really fell in love with serving others, and it kind of opened my eyes to a bunch of social issues that I had no idea existed,” explained Parks. “I would say I grew up living a pretty sheltered life … I never realized how many homeless children there were; I never realized how many sick people there are. I really thought that everybody lived a life similar to mine.”
In addition to participating in various service opportunities like Service Plunge and Service Plunge 2.0 each school year, Parks has been a Service Advocate for the Center for Community Engagement and Service during her time at Salve Regina. This means that she has volunteered for 100 hours each academic year at a location of her choice — which for Parks was San Piper’s Early Learning Center, a part of Child & Family Services in Middletown, Rhode Island. Parks worked in the day care with infants and children up to five years old.
“It was really wonderful,” said Parks. “They offer services to foster children, low income children, so it was a wide variety of children that I was working with.”
Parks both participated in and lead the yearly Florida service trip during her time at Salve Regina, a trip that partners with Give Kids the World Village and the Sunshine Foundation to offer trips to critically ill children or children who have physical or developmental disabilities and their families. Parks also went to Kingston, Jamaica, to volunteer with Mustard Seed Communities.
“We spent a week in Kingston volunteering at different facilities throughout the organization that offer services to infants up to adults of 50 or 60 years who have either been abandoned or their families just can’t provide the proper care for them,” Parks described. “So they have developmental disabilities, physical disabilities — a vary wide range.”
Service sparks change to a major in social work
As Parks continued to do service opportunities around Aquidneck Island and the world, all of the agencies that Parks was volunteering with seemed to mention social workers quite a bit. This sparked her interest. After thinking a lot about it, she ended up changing her major to social work her sophomore year at Salve Regina.
“I was like, ‘Hmm, I could do this for the rest of my life—working with people and getting more involved,’ ” said Parks. “So I just kind of went out on a limb and I told my parents, ‘I’m switching my major, I’m going to be a social worker.’ ”
Parks has enjoyed her social work classes and professors, and she believes the major has really given her the skills that she needs to work in the field. She was finishing up an intern at the Rhode Island Veteran’s Home this semester, and she felt 100% prepared by her social work education to go into the internship when she started it.
“The different service that I’ve done has also definitely helped me with social work, just because I’ve volunteered with … infants, critically ill children and adults with developmental disabilities, which has all tied into this social work,” Parks said.
Parks has already been accepted into the social work program at New York University (NYU) to begin pursuing her master’s degree in social work in NYU’s advanced standing program, which means she’ll be done with her master’s degree in just two years.
Senior year changes amidst the coronavirus
Parks was going to display posters of her service trips and projects at this year’s SR You Student Exposition, as she has done in past years. While 2020’s SR You event has been cancelled due to the coronavirus pandemic, Parks still looks back on her service experience as an invaluable opportunity during her four years at Salve Regina. It made her completely pivot in what she thought she wanted out of life, and she has found her passion in social work.
Parks admits that the recent developments with the coronavirus pandemic has definitely derailed her senior year in ways no one could’ve anticipated. Although having to go back home has been very disappointing, she’s trying to be flexible and open to what lies ahead and to embrace online learning as a new challenge for someone finishing up her senior year.
“I knew that I wouldn’t be able to finish my internship at the Rhode Island Veterans Home, which was heartbreaking,” she admits. “Since most of my assignments are based off of the work done at internship, my professors had to adjust the syllabus and create new assignments, because my classmates and I can no longer meet face-to-face with clients.”
However, Parks believes that the professors and staff at Salve Regina have made the transition much better than she anticipated with their ongoing support, which proves how deep the community aspect of Salve Regina is. The Salve Regina community is strong despite its current challenges, and this has always been something that drew her to the University in the first place when she was just 8 years old.
“I think it’s important to remain positive and hopeful during this time, and knowing that my family, friends and classmates are safe and healthy reminds me that we still have so much to be grateful for,” Parks said.
This pandemic also reminds Parks of how important social work and service is to the world at large.
“There are so many people out there that could use our help, whether it’s donating supplies to hospitals, calling family members, checking on elderly neighbors, supporting local businesses or providing meals to children who rely on school lunches to eat,” said Parks. “There are so may ways we can help others during this pandemic.”
Each Thursday, SALVEtoday will provide tips for success as well as success stories of current students and alumni to encourage and uplift the University community during this time of remote living and learning. #salvesgotthis #salvesuccess