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May honored as distinguished social worker alumni by East Central University

The wide range of Citizen Potawatomi Nation governmental services vastly impacts the community, from the police department and WIC to the Child Development Center. As important as those services are, programs like the CPN House of Hope and CPN Indian Child Welfare offer support to those facing some of the toughest choices of their lives. Whether counseling a spouse seeking a way out of an abusive relationship or monitoring a family marred by the challenges of child abuse or neglect, staff members at these programs handle tense but rewarding assignments every day. One CPN employee recently received a commendation from East Central University for her service at both the House of Hope and ICW.

Ashlee May attending the East Central University Social Workers Alumni event.

The Hownikan spoke with Ashlee May, recipient of the 2019 East Central Distinguished Social Worker Alumni Award, about her current position as administrative officer for CPN ICW, her background and the work for both the House of Hope and ICW that qualified her for the award.

Where are you from originally?

“I am from Bethel Acres where I graduated from high school in 2008.”

You worked for FireLake Discount Foods when you were a teenager. What made you come back to work once you were in college doing internships at ECU?

“A lot of things made me come back to work for the Nation. Mainly the relationships I built, and I always just felt at ‘home’ while working for CPN. It was close to my family, and I knew that I wanted to ultimately have my career end up being at CPN. Unfortunately, that didn’t happen right out of college due to my husband’s job placement, but as soon as the opportunity presented itself to come back, I did.”

When it comes to stressful jobs, social workers, alongside first responders, often have some of the toughest assignments. Why did you choose that as an academic path, then a career path?

“For as long as I can remember, I wanted to be a social worker. Some life events also led me to this career path. I always enjoyed helping others throughout my life. It’s really hard to explain, but I truly feel like it was what I was put on this Earth to do. I feel blessed that my career is also my passion.”

You’ve worked at two of CPN’s social service programs in the House of Hope and ICW. What are some of the similarities and differences you’ve seen as a staff member in each department?

“A similarity is definitely how clients are treated with dignity and respect no matter what situation they are in. In both departments, we never let a client leave empty-handed. If we could not help them specifically, we always made sure we helped lead them to someone who could.

“The House of Hope and Indian Child Welfare are very different. It is a completely different approach to the situations, with different dynamics all playing a role.”

What’s your day-to-day work like as an administrative officer?

“Right now, I am still learning my role as administrative officer. I feel like I learn something new every day. Honestly, I do a little bit of everything. I do administrative work, case management, administrative assistant duties and anywhere else I am needed. I enjoy helping my coworkers as much as possible. Being a part of a team is where I thrive.”

What advice would you give to someone interested in pursuing an education and career in social work?

“The advice I would give them is that social work is so hard, but yet, so rewarding. Some days will be harder than others, but it is all worth it. To see a child be reunified with their family or finding permanency by adoption is a feeling you will never forget. Even when working with the House of Hope, seeing the family live a life free of violence was truly amazing. I always say, ‘If I have helped just one person, then I have done my job.’”

Both the House of Hope and Indian Child Welfare departments are always looking for new staff members; please visit firelakejobs.com to see opportunities. If you or a loved one is in need of support services for domestic violence, please visit cpnhouseofhope.com or call 1-800-799-7233. If you or your family may need support from the CPN Indian Child Welfare Department, please visit potawatomi.org/firelodge/.