DCF Social Worker Gabrielle Mitchell Delivers UCONN MSW Commencement Address
Gabrielle Mitchell stood proudly in her cap and gown. With the tassel placed to the right, it was almost time to be awarded a Master's Degree in Social Work from the University of Connecticut. But first, she had one more assignment - deliver the class of 2022 commencement address!
Gabrielle listened intently as a UCONN faculty member introduced her. "Wow, I really have put in the work," she thought to herself while listening to her biography being read to the hundreds in attendance.
After repeatedly reciting the speech over a period of weeks, the moment had finally come - the podium was hers.
"Take a moment to breathe in the air around you and reflect on what it took to get you here today. You deserve this and you earned this," Gabrielle told her classmates. "You pushed yourselves to finish what you started despite any emotional, physical and mental hardships you may have faced these past couple of years. So please give yourself a round of applause and bask in this moment."
Gabrielle easily could have been talking to herself.
It took over two long years to finally be able to walk across the stage in front of family and friends and receive her diploma. Those years were personally grueling. Gabrielle worked as a Social Worker with the Department of Children and Families, engaged in graduate classes, took part an internship with families diagnosed with HIV, and completed an internal internship with DCF, as well as overcame a serious health condition during that time.
The commencement address delivered many themes, from acknowledging the trauma associated with COVID-19 to reminding students to be "fearless" and not to become "complacent" with the systems that are in place and to challenge the way things are done. Gabrielle encouraged the student body to give those they will serve the tools to advocate for themselves when the work is completed and to be excited and ready for the challenges which lay ahead. These messages all contain the values and ideals Gabrielle embodies.
View the full commencement address here.
Gabrielle has spent over four years as an Ongoing Services Worker with DCF. Prior to joining the Agency, she was part of a team at the Wheeler Clinic substance abuse and crisis stabilization programs. Out of high school, she began her work with vulnerable populations as she was a daycare assistant in a maternity home for unwed teenage mothers eventually leaving to conduct non-profit work at the Boys and Girls Club.
"I love achieving permanence for children," she stated when asked why she has remained with the Department. "Transparency with families is key," whether you are delivering good or bad news. As best you can, be "open, honest and transparent," she added. When this occurs, families are not caught off-guard. "Families know if they do their part, I will do mine."
"Gabrielle is a caring, compassionate Social Worker who is a strong advocate for equality among all the clients she services. Gabrielle will go above and beyond to make certain she is doing all that can be done to meet the needs of her families while ensuring the safety of the children on her caseload. The positive outcomes on Gabrielle's cases are a true testament to her commitment and dedication to making a difference in the lives of others," stated Social Work Supervisor Amy Gionfriddo.
Former Program Supervisor Cathy Waylen also spoke highly of her Gabrielle and her accomplishments. "Gabrielle is a warm, compassionate social worker who is always striving to improve her practice so she can offer the best service to her clients. She is an asset to the agency and to the children and families she serves," Cathy remarked.
"I had no idea of all the things the job entailed before I took the job," Gabrielle stated.
One set of activities she spoke about was how she actively works to implement the Quality Parenting Initiative (QPI) principles and "nurture" the birth family and foster family relationship to "create a bond from the beginning as best you can" which will lead to quicker permanency for children.
"Ms. Mitchell, fondly known as Gabbie in our office, is a true social worker at heart. She approaches her work with compassion, honesty, and respect. She builds trust and involves other resources, staff, fathers, and kin to help families through the toughest of times. What impresses me most is her adaptability to unique situations. She's a quick thinker and invites teamwork. Her ultimate goal is always to help families and children. Gabbie often goes above and beyond for her families, showing kindness and acceptance. She is one of the first social workers to notice and give when families need a birthday or holiday gifts for their children and food for a nice meal. We are so very proud of her and all of her accolades. When I think about the next generation of social workers, I feel hopeful to know we have people like Gabbie working at DCF," stated Meriden Office Director Maribel Martinez.
Gabrielle's decision to obtain her MSW was grounded in her desires to gain additional knowledge, take her work to the "next level" and advance within the Department. "I love this work and I'm going to stick around," she stated.
While at UCONN, Gabrielle excelled in the classroom and within the internship programs. She was named Co-Chair of the Organization of Black Social Work Students from 2020-2021, and each semester organized wellness events from virtual yoga and painting to serving on the Black History 365 Committee.
Life then took a very serious turn.
In October 2020, Gabrielle began experiencing anxiety and became easily overheated causing her to a pass out. She was diagnosed with a thyroid condition and in December 2021 required surgery to resolve it. The Employee Assistance Program (EAP) helped her to "listen to her body" and seek additional support on her journey to heal.
After the procedure, Gabrielle went right back to her determined ways. School and the internship were back in session. As she regained her strength, excellent news came her way.
In March, Gabrielle was nominated by faculty to receive the 2022 Outstanding Senior Women's Academic Achievement Award from the UCONN Women's Center and to deliver the commencement address. "It was nice to be recognized when I didn't know I was being recognized," she stated. Gabrielle earned a 4.0 GPA throughout the MSW program.
This month, Gabrielle received the Connecticut Alliance of Foster and Adoptive Families (CAFAF) Social Worker of the Year Award for the Meriden Office. She was nominated by CAFAF Liaison Deb Candelora. "Throughout the pandemic, I continued to see Gabbie's smile on the screen often. She continued engaging families with support and services and jumped right in when asked to learn about QPI. Gabbie is always respectful and goes the extra mile," Deb stated. She was presented the award by Commissioner Vannessa Dorantes.
As Gabrielle looked out from the podium after 2.5 years of extensive effort and challenges along the way while delivering the commencement address, what did she think? "I felt so powerful and proud," she stated.
"They were locked in," she added when discussing the audience.
How did Gabrielle achieve all of this? Perhaps her own words during the commencement speech could answer this question.
"Hope is your anchor, the community is your anchor, and you are your anchor."
Congratulations to Gabrielle Mitchell, MSW - Class of 2022!