Rutgers–Camden Student Earns 2013 CONTACT Scholarship Award

GEDSC DIGITAL CAMERAMichelle Gaffney, a senior psychology major at Rutgers–Camden, has been awarded a 2013 CONTACT Scholarship Award in the amount of $500 from CONTACT Community Helplines. She was honored in part for her volunteer work at CONTACT, a 24/7 crisis hotline, which serves people in need in Camden, Cumberland, Gloucester and Salem counties.

Gaffney will receive the award in a special ceremony held during the CONTACT Board of Directors meeting, to be held on Thursday, July 18.

“It really means a lot to me,” says Gaffney, a resident of Mantua. “To be rewarded for doing volunteer service is pretty amazing.”

Gaffney began volunteering for the hotline a year ago in order to gain experience prior to applying to Rutgers–Camden for a master’s degree in social work. However, she quickly found that she was a perfect fit for her role assisting others. “I love helping people,” says Gaffney, a 2010 graduate of Clearview High School in Mullica Hill. “That is ultimately what I want to do with my life after college, so I love the fact that I can start helping others now.”

Among her many rewarding experiences at CONTACT, Gaffney has placed homeless families in emergency shelters. “That always feels good when you can help families with children find homes, and get out of the cold, for at least one night,” says Gaffney, who works 16 hours a month for the hotline.

She has also had the fulfilling experience of assisting callers who are contemplating suicide. About six months ago, she proved to be the right person at the right time to provide comfort to a distressed caller. “I was able to calm her down and tell her that she was worth it,” recalls Gaffney. “Those are the rewarding experiences that make me feel good when I leave for the night.”

Gaffney acknowledges that she has made it her lifelong mission to help others because she, too, understands what it means to go through traumatic experiences. She explains that her 17-year-old sister, Melissa, died in a car accident when she was three years old, and her father, Joseph, is currently battling cancer. “I stay strong, so I like to help other people stay strong too,” she says.

In addition to her service to the hotline, Gaffney has worked as an infant and toddler teacher for the past five years at Little Wonders Academy, a day care center in West Deptford. In her position, she treasures the opportunity to watch the children grow, and to serve as a role model in their lives. “Some of my kids will be graduating from kindergarten this year, so that is very emotional for me,” says Gaffney, who is minoring in childhood studies.

A student in the Honors College at Rutgers–Camden, Gaffney credits Laura Goins, program coordinator for the college, for serving as a great mentor and advising her “every step of the way.” In the fall, she will serve an internship in social work in the Deptford Township school district. Upon earning her master’s degree, she plans to work with children in a clinical setting.

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