Coming to Baylor from Freeport, Texas, Haleigh Culverhouse grew up with parents who greatly value social justice and operate a nonprofit organization which supports women at risk for or recovering from human trafficking. Their support, as well as a focus on mental health and self-care within her family, helped open her eyes to a career in social work.
When asked how she felt about receiving the Spirit of Social Work Award, Haleigh said she was “surprised” and “honored.” She also had a sizeable list of people she owed thanks to throughout her social work journey.
“I’m really thankful to my family: my brothers for inspiring my interest in social work, and my parents for supporting me and encouraging me through the really tough days,” Haleigh said.
Haleigh interned at Waco Center for Youth this past spring, where she cared for adolescents with varying mental health diagnoses. She worked under the supervision of a therapist and met individually with girls at the center to talk them through their thoughts and feelings before they were to meet with other staff members. She also planned and lead group therapy sessions, and often sat in on clinical therapy sessions, among other day-to-day responsibilities. In all this, her own experiences greatly helped her serve patients.
“Working with girls with different mental illnesses, I didn't fully understand what they were going through specifically, but I understood what it is like to feel deep sadness or anxiety, or to be in a group setting and feel like everyone’s against you. I know what that feels like,” Haleigh said.
Haleigh’s time at the Garland School of Social Work (GSSW) was extremely helpful for her. She was able to learn groundwork and various theories for understanding mental health, which she applied to both her personal and professional life. She also valued having classmates and colleagues who brought different perspectives on how they see what they learn in class play out in the real world.
"Professor Fisher taught me the importance of language and curiosity. She would always choose her words wisely and spoke with such grace. It seemed like everything was taken into consideration,” Haleigh said. Professor Fisher also taught her one of her most important lessons of college: “Seeking to understand before seeking to be understood.”
“It was really valuable to see how human behavior manifests itself in different environments. If I wasn't in the school of social work, I wouldn’t have that knowledge that has been so valuable,” Haleigh said. In the future, Haleigh hopes to do interview-based research on how Waco Center for Youth can better support clients on the autism spectrum.
Along with the professional experience her internship brought, Haleigh also greatly valued the emphasis the GSSW placed on the integration of faith into social work practice.
“[Since] I worked for a state-funded agency … I was not supposed to talk openly about my faith, but faith in practice teaches us that to ethically practice is to allow the client to lead, and give them resources as needed,” Haleigh said. “I still [personally] prayed for my clients. I prayed for healing for the girls, and that they would feel they are loved.”
Overall, Haleigh felt emboldened by professors at the GSSW. She felt they extended care for their students beyond the classroom.
“When I was experiencing tough seasons of life, they would extend grace and have spaces where you could come and talk through what was going on and how it was affecting you, [knowing] things in the outside world also affect schoolwork,” Haleigh said. “They were very nurturing and loving, but also empowering and encouraging for you to seek whatever you need. That was super significant.”
When asked about professors who influenced Haleigh during her time at the GSSW, she said Dr. Holly Oxhandler and Professor Kerri Fisher are two she really admired.
“Dr. Oxhandler showed the beauty of faith through the social work lens and social work through a faith lens,” Haleigh said. “She believes in you even when you have a hard time believing in yourself.”
“Professor Fisher taught me the importance of language and curiosity. She would always choose her words wisely and spoke with such grace. It seemed like everything was taken into consideration,” Haleigh said. Professor Fisher also taught her one of her most important lessons of college: “Seeking to understand before seeking to be understood.”
Very humble, Haleigh was caught off guard when she found out she was being honored with the BSW Spirit of Social Work Award. After thinking about it for a while, though, she was able to talk about why she feels she exemplified the “spirit” of social work...
“I think I do live a life where [social work] values and ethics are really important to me and central to the way I interact with people,” Haleigh said. “[Those values] really motivate and drive me both in the social work world and in my personal life.”
Even more, Haleigh felt receiving this award was a sign she truly is doing what she is meant to do.
“Receiving this award was such a shock, but also a huge affirmation. I felt like God was calling me to this work, but now I feel … affirmed by an institution I really admire and respect,” Haleigh said. “This award has felt like a gift from God to affirm what I feel is my calling in life.”
After graduating with her BSW in May, Haleigh applied to the virtual MSW program through the GSSW's Houston Campus and began that just this week. She will eventually work toward becoming an LCSW and is excited to study in a new environment rich with opportunities to make an impact as a social worker.
Professionally, she will focus on mental health therapy and counseling, as well as holistic care and advocacy. She mentioned possibilities of working at a residential treatment facility or doing wilderness therapy. Haleigh hopes to work with adolescents and families, with some interest in college students. Her ultimate dream, however, would be owning and operating a camp or retreat center for holistic healing and empowerment of women.