As we settle into a new school year, we feel fortunate to have a great team of co-op students working for us as they continue their studies at Mount St. Joseph University.
This is the seventh year for the partnership between JFS, the Mount and The Carol Ann and Ralph V. Haile, Jr./U.S. Bank Foundation, which funds the program. Started as a way to help JFS fill in some gaps after significant layoffs, the program offers pay and experience to the students and has evolved into a great recruitment tool for us. About 10 students who worked with us as interns ultimately took full-time jobs at HCJFS. Five former students currently work here full time.
One of them is Chris Kokenge, a child care field investigator who makes sure the facilities we recommend meet standards.
“The co-op program most certainly helped prepare me for my current position,” he said. “First and foremost, at HCJFS I was given the opportunity to shadow people in my current position that were outside of my co-op area. This level of flexibility allows you to see the great variety of occupations at Job and Family Services and might greatly influence your career path after graduation. In addition to this, I learned a great deal of office-related skills that might seem unimportant, but they can make all the difference in the hiring process.”
Cody Minella has worked at the agency as a co-op for 2 1/2 years. He finished his marketing degree at the Mount and now is working on his MBA. He hopes to find a job at HCJFS after graduation.
“I like the people I work with,” he said. “They include me in everything. They don’t treat me differently because I’m just here part-time.”
Maria DeStefano works full-time at HCJFS now after starting as a co-op student. She is very thankful she had the opportunity to learn a lot of the agency’s computer systems and programs because she’s using them daily now as a Children’s Services worker.
“I would strongly recommend this co-op program to other students that are majoring in criminology and social work,” she said. “You don’t realize how much you really are learning until you get into the position and see how much being able to navigate through SACWIS and JCMS really applies. I have to thank this co-op program for really preparing me and giving me the experience and opportunity to learn and be successful in accepting a position at HCJFS.”
The co-op experience is the “perfect stepping stone” to beginning a career in child welfare, said Kelsey Howard who also works at the agency full-time in Children’s Services.
“Yes, without the co-op opportunity I had I do not believe I would be as successful in the position I am in now,” she said. “I was fortunate enough to gain employment through HCJFS as an ongoing worker thanks to the connections and knowledge I built during my internship experience.”
The program aligns with The Haile Foundation’s mission of enhancing education and human services. A Haile grant goes to the Mount, where it’s used to pay the students.
Samantha Salvaggio, who’s now a Children’s Services investigation worker, said her co-op time gave her the chance to form long-lasting relationships with other employees and supervisors and those ultimately led her to get her job. She said she was “proud to say that I interned with the agency that has provided me with an opportunity to aid needy families in my community.”
Salvaggio was a co-op student first, then took an internship here as part of her college course work. She joined the agency full-time after a brief time working at Talbert House.
“As a co-op, I learned the basics and even more in depth information regarding SACWIS, MCP, and KISR,” she said. “I am able to implement this valuable information in my assessments and I am also able to assist colleagues in adding participants, changing demographics for clients and updating information within the system.”
Dillon Martini, who graduated from the Mount last year with a criminal justice degree, started at JFS as a co-op student. After graduation, he worked in child care for a year before recently becoming a Children’s Services investigator, a job he wanted for quite some time.
Keyasia Mitchell, currently the communications intern, is considering starting her career at JFS when she graduates in May. A psychology major, she has been able to shadow in various departments of the agency so she can narrow down what jobs she might be interested in.
Shadowing also helped a former intern, Sara Vice. She spent some time observing at the Mayerson Center for Safe and Healthy Children, the place at Cincinnati Children’s Medical Center where our most severe abuse cases are handled. She has since finished her master’s degree and is working on her doctorate. She plans to become a psychologist who works with kids who have experienced trauma. She doesn’t believe she would have been accepted to graduate school without the experiences she had at HCJFS.
“I would not be where I am in my career without my experience at HCJFS,” she said. “HCJFS did everything they could to ensure that I got the best experience and the most relevant to my field. I was able to work on the adoption website and with the children in foster care. Now I am almost finished with my doctorate in clinical psychology with a focus on treating childhood trauma, a passion I did not have prior to my time at HCJFS.”
All the students said they absolutely would recommend the program.
“The program allows students to work in the field and gain knowledgeable education within Hamilton County Children’s Services and can allow students an insight as to how the agency works versus what the public may see it as,” Salvaggio said.
Kokenge said the co-op experience “prepares you for life after graduation. Even if a career at Job and Family Services isn’t of any interest, the connections made with your coworkers/managers may prove to be invaluable… A regular entry-level position elsewhere will not likely prepare you for life after school in the same way a co-op will.”