Mankato and Me

by Libby Guss, ’18 (Spanish and Social Work, Mankato; Minn.)


I have lived in Mankato for the past seventeen years. It is the community that raised me and helped shape me into who I am today. Volunteering around the city is not something that I feel obligated to do, rather, it is something I am proud and very happy to do.

Each week, I spend about seven hours volunteering at different places. While two of the places do tie in strongly with my majors, Spanish and Social Work, the other is a form of stress relief for me: “kitten therapy.” The Blue Earth Nicollet County Humane Society (BENCHS) is our regional no-kill animal shelter. Volunteering at BENCHS is how I start every Sunday. There, I clean the cat “condos,” feed the cats, give them fresh water, and provide them with the attention they deserve. I may be allergic to cats, but this does not stop me from cuddling with five kittens at once. I would recommend volunteering at BENCHS to any student who wants to be a part of their community while also de-stressing from the demands of college.

Libby at BENCHS

One of the other places I volunteer is the local hospital, part of the Mayo Clinic Health System. There, I am a part of STEP Force, which stands for Speedy Transport & Escort Pool. During my shifts each week, I receive calls to discharge patients, escort patients, deliver flowers, move wheelchairs, and more. Some of the people I meet call the hospital their second home due to the frequency of their visits, while others tell me that they haven’t been in a hospital for an extended period of time since they were born. Not every person I meet is in the hospital for unfortunate circumstances, however. In fact, many of the people I discharge are new mothers and their families. Young children always brighten up my day, too, such as one little girl who told me that her new sibling’s official name is “Baby Brother,” and that that is all he will ever be. My work at the hospital is never extremely challenging but it is always incredibly rewarding. I have the opportunity to interact with so many different people from a wide variety of backgrounds, each with a different story to tell. It feels like its own world, one where everyone is welcome but no one really wants to visit. Whenever I can put a smile on a patient’s face, I consider the day very successful.

Libby at the Hospital

My favorite organization by far to volunteer for is the YMCA’s Brother/Sister Program. Through it, I mentor a young girl in the community who comes from a background that does not allow her to have the same opportunities many other children have. She is one of the kindest, smartest, and funniest people I know. I look forward to every time we meet and spend a large portion of my free time planning activities for us to do. She loves animals and has told me she wants to either be a veterinarian, pet shop owner, doctor, or film maker when she grows up. I suggested she just be a “Businefilmternarian.” One activity that we have been working on is reading the Harry Potter series together in attempts to raise her reading level. She has fallen in love with the story of Harry. She told me that after we finish each book, we need to watch the corresponding movie and then talk about all the similarities and differences between them. I cannot put into words how proud she makes me with these quick comments she throws out all the time. Being a mentor with this program has been an invaluable experience for me. I have grown so much as a leader and as a person in general due to this program. Having my little sister in my life and hearing about her day to day activities and her dreams and aspirations motivates me to do so much more in my own life. In fact, it was because of the Brother/Sister Program that I found out that I can turn all of these passions of mine into an actual career as a Social Worker.

Libby and Teagan again          Libby and Teagan

It is my belief that everyone has the right to and deserves happiness. My mission is to help as many people as I can to find or rediscover happiness in their lives through whatever means necessary. With the help of the Honors Program and my volunteering experiences, I know that I will be able to set myself apart in the future and truly make a difference in someone’s life.


South Africa: Rich in Culture, Social Justice, and Hope

by Makenzie Petzel, ’16 (Social Work & Spanish; Arlington, Minn)


Makenzie (on the right) with her South African pen pal

The Department of Social Work at Minnesota State University, Mankato has a strong relationship with the Department of Social Work at the University of Fort Hare, South Africa. Our department at Minnesota State gives students the opportunity to travel to the city of East London, South Africa to meet fellow social work students, tour the country, learn about its history of social development, and work with an organization called CATCH Projects (Caring, Affirming, Training for Change). CATCH’s mission is to partner with community residents and champion active citizenship in the community of Mzamomhle in order to protect and promote the health and rights of vulnerable women, children and families impacted by poverty, violence and AIDS.

The experience of traveling to South Africa in May of 2015 challenged my thinking on how I live my life as a person and as an aspiring social worker. Throughout the trip, I compared the nature of the delivery of social services and governmental attitudes in the United States to what I was learning about social justice and the effects of apartheid in South Africa. I saw a greater level of passion for social justice among the South African students than I have during my classes at MSU Mankato. Now, this could be due to the fact that South Africa has greater cohesion in attaining social justice for all, or it could be due to individual differences among the people. Regardless of the reason, the difference in level of passion in students was evident. In my opinion, all social work students are motivated to help other people; otherwise they would not choose the profession. However, individual passion plays itself out differently for each person in the field in which they want to work and how vocal they are of their passion.

South Africa

A glimpse of the community of Mzamomhle

This experience also taught me a lot about privilege and opened my eyes to how blessed I have been in my life, in my upbringing, and how well my needs were provided for as a child and into adulthood. Happiness is not in the amount of things we have or where we live, it’s about the support around us and making the most of what we have. I can never say I know how it feels to grow up in poverty like many of the children in South Africa have, but I can use what I have been blessed with in my life to help others in my practice. For the most part, this will play out as I use my education in social work to ethically advocate for clients, but my passion for volunteer work, connection to my church community, and community connections can, and likely will, help me learn of programs and organizations to which I can refer my clients for additional support.

Going forward from this trip, I hope to always remember the level of passion and commitment to social justice I witnessed during my short time in the country. The organizations we visited in South Africa mentioned the phrase “planting seeds” on multiple occasions. Even on my own, I can plant seeds for change with every interaction with individuals, families, groups, communities, and greater society. Social problems in the United States are widespread and too big for any one person to tackle on his or her own, but if I am able to help one client beat homelessness, unemployment, or drug addiction through direct practice and referral, work is being done to break the negative cycles of social problems across the country. I believe it is important not to underestimate our power as individuals and in collaboration with others to promote change in our agencies, communities, and nations. I sincerely hope that greater passion for social justice was sparked for my fellow classmates as it was for me through this experience in cultural exchange.


The new community garden of CATCH