During both her early career as a practicing social worker and her current position as head of the Master of Social Work program at Edinboro University, Elaine Rinfrette, Ph.D., has asked the same question.
“Regardless of what the problems might be, we must find a way to make this work,” she said. “How can we make this be a success?”
An EU faculty member for six years, Rinfrette recently was recognized for her success in social work. The National Association of Social Workers selected Rinfrette as the 2017 Social Worker of the Year in the Western Division – New York State Chapter.
Rinfrette said she was shocked when she received word that she had been selected as the top social worker out of eight New York counties.
“There are a lot of social workers in this area,” she said. “To be picked out amongst all those people is pretty surprising.”
The Social Worker of the Year Award is presented to the individual who “exemplifies the best of the profession’s values and achievements through specific accomplishments,” according to the award letter from Paula Madrigal, director of the Western Division of NASW. Rinfrette will accept the award during a luncheon on March 23 in Depew, N.Y.
Dr. Erinn Lake, executive director of the School of Graduate Studies and Research, said the recognition for Rinfrette is another example of faculty excellence at Edinboro University.
“We cannot think of anyone more deserving of this honor than Dr. Rinfrette,” she said. “She consistently works to improve the quality of life for others, especially the social work students at Edinboro University.”
Rinfrette said that skills such as good communication, listening and problem-solving transitioned with her from client care to education.
“All of the skills and experience I had in in my social work career really carry over in this department, with our faculty and students,” said Rinfrette, who chose to work in higher education to contribute to the next generation of social workers.
Despite succeeding on an educational level as well, Rinfrette said she will also miss working directly with clients.
“You get really close to people. Their success becomes your success, too,” she said. “I miss seeing them go from really distressed with problems to finding out they have the ability to solve them.”
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the overall employment of social workers is projected to grow 12 percent through 2024. This is due to an increase demand for health care and social services across the country. Rinfrette said Edinboro University and its current and potential students are prepared for this increase.
“In the six years I’ve been here, the enthusiasm (for the field) has grown and grown and grown,” she said. “And it doesn’t seem to be slowing down at all.”
For potential students, Rinfrette suggests not only preparing a background in practical social work, but also employing empathy for clients.
“Working with people who feel that their life is stuck and helping them through that is the most rewarding thing there is,” she said. “They go from a place of distress to a place of success and happiness.”
Rinfrette received her Bachelor of Science in nursing from the University of Rhode Island. During her nursing career, she spoke with a mentor who directed her to social work. From there, she obtained her Master of Social Work from Boston University and a Ph.D. in Social Welfare from the University at Buffalo.