Social worker credits campus for her path to helping others
By Monica M. Walk
Attended UW-FDL: Fall 2008-Spring 2010
Completed Social Work degree: UW-Green Bay, 2012
Case Manager, Teen Parent Program: Catholic Charities of Green Bay
Jeanna Zuelke is a role model. The words may not be spelled out in her job title, but they are inherent in her work with teen parents as a case manager at Catholic Charities in Green Bay.
“I always wanted to help, to be that person,” Zuelke said as she traced the educational path that led her to a profession in social work.
“I knew I wanted to do some kind of work with people, but I wasn’t sure what,” she said, recalling the reasons she enrolled at UW-Fond du Lac in fall 2008 after graduating from Winnebago Lutheran Academy. “Attending UW-Fond du Lac gave me time to think before claiming a major. It also was high-quality and affordable.”
And, beginning college in Fond du Lac kept the GreenValley 4-H Club close. “I was very active in 4-H,” Zuelke said of growing up in rural Oakfield. “And the Extension office was upstairs on campus! You can be in 4-H only one more year after high school, so I was in it the maximum amount of time.”
Zuelke and her pony, Diamond, earned trophies and ribbons, including 2006 State Fair Grand Champion in a carriage driving class. But, it was the volunteerism and community service components of 4-H that really drew her in as a teen. She participated in a leadership program that planned charity fund-raising events, and served as a 4-H summer camp counselor. She continues to volunteer as an adult leader.
On the UW-Fond du Lac campus, Zuelke’s leadership abilities caught the attention of Student Affairs Coordinator Maggie Gellings, who mentors the campus student government organization. Zuelke served on student government and its finance committee. She also served as a Student Ambassador, providing campus tours and information to prospective students.
Zuelke credits her smooth academic path to the mentoring provided by the Student Affairs staff. “They did my academic advising….I wouldn’t have had such a successful transfer to UW-GreenBay without them,” Zuelke said.
At the Green Bay campus, Zuelke knew she would pursue a major in social work and anticipated a wait to enter the competitive program. She was stunned to receive a call on her first day of classes, alerting her that another student had forfeited a position in that year’s cohort and she was first on the waiting list.
“Social work was a perfect fit,” Zuelke said of her coursework.
The enjoyment of working in a high school during a junior-year internship at Brown County Healthy Families Program led to a senior internship placement with Catholic Charities Teen Parent Program. When the year-long internship ended, Zuelke was invited to interview for full-time employment.
As a teen parent case manager, Zuelke works with 30 Brown County teen mothers and fathers who are in the program voluntarily, seeking guidance and support. Case management covers a wide range of duties: “Whatever goal the teen parent has, I help with,” Zuelke explained. Goals may include staying in school, finding childcare, earning a driver’s license, creating a resume, practicing interviewing skills, finding a doctor, learning to breastfeed, understanding insurance and obtaining child support.
The program offers prenatal and postnatal support, and Zuelke works with the teens on parenting skills. “Although I’m not a parent yet, I do have a 17 year-old sister going through many of the same high school social situations, and I have had a lot of training and parent-educator work,” she noted.
“Teen years are really hard,” Zuelke said. “I had my own personal struggles. I think if I can help one person and make a difference so they don’t have it quite so hard, I’ve done my job. On top of all that high school stuff, they are parents. Most are still in school. We try to eliminate the barriers so they can stay in school or get their GED. Some of these teens have been through abuse and neglect with their own parents. They are very strong, and I see them overcome the challenges they need to face.”
Despite work that requires both mental and emotional engagement, Zuelke doesn’t lie low on weekends. Instead, she works every other weekend as an advocate at Golden House, a domestic abuse emergency shelter for women and children in Green Bay. She handles intake, answers the crisis hotline, and works with residents. “I couldn’t do it full-time,” she said of the emotional nature of this position.
And during football season, Zuelke makes the most of her Green Bay location and celebrates her Packers fandom by working as a parking lot attendant at home games. “I love that job!” she said with a laugh.
Photo courtesy of Jeanna Zuelke
Originally published Feb 2014