Prairie Profiles: Learning to advocate

Published 10:52 pm Monday, November 4, 2019

Freeborn County’s Crime Victims Crisis Center gets its first intern


The field of social work covers a large umbrella under which several smaller categories fall. While these categories are vast, the principles of social work are universal and are a vital piece of what Albert Lea resident Laura Cornwell feels she has been learning as the first intern for Freeborn County’s Crime Victims Crisis Center.

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Those core values include providing a confidential and nonjudgmental environment where clients have the right to self-determine their own outcomes and have equal access to the resources in their community. It also means meeting clients where they are at and using evidence-based strategies in whatever course of action is being taken.

Cornwell is also being exposed to one of the largest cross-sections of the population that one area of social work can cover.

“Crime, sexual assault and domestic violence can affect anyone across the life spectrum — from birth to death and across every income category, every race, every ethnicity,” said Freeborn Couny Children’s Mental Health and CVCC Supervisor Maureen Williams-Zelenak.

Cornwell said she wasn’t familiar with this particular area before her experience began Sept. 3. Over the last month she has completed confidentiality training, began learning more about the different cultures the CVCC works with — including the Karen community, and has started training to become a volunteer advocate.

Cornwell has also been sitting in with her field supervisor, Heather Butler, during client consultations and will be expected to take the lead on the consultations before her internship expires at the end of the month.

“I’m confident about that,” Cornwell said. “I just have to do it.”

During this time, Butler will watch for more than how well Cornwell has retained the information she has been taught, but how she applies that knowledge.

Butler said she feels it is important for interns to be open about expanding their knowledge and learn more about the values of social work, which she feels Cornwell’s actions and words need to reflect.

“It’s about working with them where they are,” Butler said. “What do they want to see happen.”

Sometimes this can mean providing someone with paperwork to file an order for protection. Other times it means going to the police station with the individual to file a police report and sitting with them throughout court proceedings.

“We, as advocates, might have a specific idea, but that is not our place,” Williams-Zelenak said. “It’s up to the client to self-determine the next step for them.”

“The whole court process amazes me,” Cornwell said, noting she was surprised at how high the legal standards are that dictate the course of action the court takes in such cases.

The experience has been eye opening for Cornwell, who wasn’t aware of how great the need for advocates was.

“I’m excited to help these ladies in the after hours, after my training,” she said.

Cornwell, who attends St. Scholastica at the Austin campus, said she’s not exactly sure what particular area she would like to specialize in, but she feels confident she would fare well regardless of her placement.

She would like to try to find her calling by venturing into other areas of social work, including adult mental health.

“Finding what I love to wake up to every morning will come through experience,” Cornwell said. “Right now I’m just learning and I’m loving it. I can’t wait to use the knowledge I’ve gained the last three years to give back.”


Laura Cornwell

Age: 32

Residence: Albert Lea

Livelihood: student, intern at Freeborn County Crime Victims Crisis Center

Family: boyfriend, Ben; and her two children, Gabby and Jackson

Interesting fact: loves spending time up north