When you think of a community services worker, you might picture someone helping out in shelters, halfway houses, or youth centres. A high school classroom probably doesn’t come to mind.
But that’s because you haven’t met Sarah Laham.
Sarah completed Herzing’s Community Services Worker program with a stellar GPA and fully expected to follow the typical CSW career path. Instead, she landed a position as an educational assistant in an Ottawa high school—and found it was exactly where she was meant to be.
Here’s her story.
Q. Sarah, can you share a bit about your background? What were you doing before heading back to school?
Sarah: I’m actually a theatre arts graduate. I’d been working retail for my entire career, mainly clothing retail, and I found that I excelled at connecting with those who had different needs. Any time there would be a customer with a different physical appearance or disability, or a language barrier, I never had an issue just stepping in.
When the pandemic hit, I was laid off for a little while and ended up doing some career coaching. As part of that, I did the Myers-Briggs personality test and scored very high for social work. That got me thinking that my heart and empathy could lead me into a new career.
Q. What made you choose the CSW program at Herzing?
Sarah: I looked through different schools and the Community Services Worker program at Herzing just seemed to be a good fit. I liked the course content and the potential opportunities it could lead to.
I took a chance with applying for it and it was almost instantaneous. I had never done private college, so I wasn’t sure how long a wait it would be, but I started almost within the week. I was still working my retail job, so I had to let them know I was going back to school.
Q. How did you find the workload?
Sarah: The course started with computer fundamentals, which was easy enough because I’m well versed with computers and typing.
But when we got into sociology and criminology as our second course, I found working while in school was a little harder because Herzing’s program is condensed. If I went to any other school, I’d be doing two to two-and-a-half years of work for this CSW course, and we were cramming it into one year. Every week there is an essay or a test or exam, so it is a lot.
Q. Can you describe some of the skills you developed in the CSW program?
Sarah: I developed a broader mindset when approaching people from vulnerable sectors. I found that the family dynamics course was very good at opening my mind to that. I consider myself a pretty empathetic person, but the program definitely opened up a lot more empathy and understanding.
It was an eye-opening experience when we did the interview course. We had to reach out to different organizations to do a mock interview to see how their organization runs. I was looking up so many different organizations that I didn’t even know existed in my own city.
I felt that was very helpful when it came time for internship choices.
Q. What was your internship like?
Sarah: I did my internship with Terrace Wellness, an organization with four separate group homes. I did anything from cleaning and cooking to behavioural work. I would help get things ready for craft activities or youth nights. I had a wide variety of tasks.
At one point I had to clean an entire room after an unfortunate incident in which one child decided to basically empty the fridge in this other kid’s room. Somebody has to clean it, right?
I loved what I did with the kids and I was really great with behavioural work, but that incident got me thinking about other opportunities that could be out there.
Q. How did you come to be an educational assistant at a high school?
Sarah: I did my internship in the group home and was going to transition straight into that. But I had this stuck feeling of I’m really good at this job, so I should do this, but I don’t know if I want to.
Two of my friends are educators, and they suggested I’d be amazing as an educational assistant. I was always under the impression that you needed teacher’s college or a university degree to be one, but that turned out not to be the case. The education that I received from Herzing was more than adequate for the role.
While interning at the group home, I was able to receive therapeutic crisis intervention training, and I got CPR training through Herzing, so that made me a stronger candidate in the eyes of the Ottawa-Carleton District School Board. I applied when I graduated in November 2021 and was working December 1st.
I work with a Grade 9 and Grade 11 student, and the things I learned in the course have really helped me to connect with the students and make sure that every child feels validated. I’m applying the same strategies I learned at Herzing to de-escalate situations.
Q. You received the Award of Merit from Herzing! Tell us about that.
Sarah: They don’t tell you beforehand that you should be at the graduation ceremony, which was held a year after I finished the program. And I almost didn’t go, as it had been a year and I was already working in the field. Plus, the day of graduation was my husband’s birthday. We were talking about whether I should go, and he said that for a birthday gift, I want you to go to your graduation.
That turned out to be great, because it would have been very embarrassing to get the Award of Merit, which includes a perfect attendance record, and not be there!
I had no idea that I was going to receive this award, so I was flabbergasted. It was amazing to be recognized for my hard work and dedication. I also won Student of the Year for Herzing, so that was overwhelming.
Q. How would you rate the program overall?
Sarah: On a scale of 10, I’d give it an 11. I highly recommend it. I have recommended it.
Herzing made it easy to absorb the knowledge and left me feeling confident. By the end of the program, I knew I was ready to get out in the field.
I had to go through this winding journey to get where I need to be. I’m now at a job where I not only feel fulfilled, but I know that I am fulfilling other lives because of what I do. I am creating a positive environment and energy for my kids to learn in and helping them feel that support and validation that they so very much need during this time of their lives.
LEARN MORE ABOUT THE COMMUNITY SERVICES WORKER PROGRAM
Herzing College Ottawa offers an intensive CSW program that is just 12 months long and includes an eight-week internship with a community organization.
Click below to get complete program details and chat live with an admissions advisor who can answer any questions you have. We’re here to help!