Central social worker receives volunteer award

Jennifer Cave could barely hear the voice on the other end of the line when she got the call that she had been named the 2023 Volunteer of the Year at The Community House.

"When they called it was over the summer and I literally was at Disney World," she said. "It was so loud in the background."

The Magic Kingdom was the perfect place to learn she had received the Katharine Van Duysen Sylvester Service Award for her work to "empower and support adolescents as they navigate the various changes and challenges they face," according to The Community House announcement.

As a social worker at Hinsdale Central, she has helped coordinate the Walk the Walk for Mental Health, worked with TCH's Junior Board and referred students to the TCH's counseling center. The center offers counseling on a sliding scale for those who have trouble affording it.

"I'm pretty sure people are aware of their counseling," Cave said of the service long offered by The Community House. "People aren't aware of how we collaborate or refer to them."

The collaboration involved a donation from the Hinsdale Central PTO to make free counseling available to Central students in need.

"We couldn't have done this without our PTO. They really did have such a generous donation," Cave said. "Within the last 10 years, we have a great need of outside agencies to help counsel our students.

"Otherwise their mental health needs aren't being taken care of," she said.

She points to events of early 2020 as the reason why so many students - and parents - are having a hard time functioning.

"It just really comes down to the pandemic," Cave said. "The kids just didn't know what to do for two years."

She also sees students of immigrants struggling and, as a first-generation Filipino American, can relate.

"You have students coming from whatever country and they just need support - or the parents just don't know how to get accustomed to the norms," she said.

Cave initially planned to pursue a career in accounting and came within three credits of earning her degree.

"Both my parents are accountants," she said. "That's all I knew. I just do my own taxes now for free," she added with a laugh.

She felt the pull to social work and started out first in a hospital and then in an elementary special education cooperative before coming to Central. She said she enjoys working with students with such varied personalities.

"Everyone is different," she said. "That's just really what I love about working in schools, especially high schools. The older kids can communicate. They will verbalize. They can tell you what's going on."

Communication is key, she said, and social workers try to teach students how to advocate for themselves by reaching out when they need help.

"Don't hold it within - that's where the issue is," she said. "Kids are holding it within and trying to deal with it by themselves and then it blows up later on."

She praised her co-workers - Maggie Buoy, Peter Hutcheon, Jessica Kim, Jim Kupres and Kelly Rocks - and says they are deserving of the award as well.

"It's not only me," she said. "I work with a whole department that's very supportive and helps through all of this."

- story by Pamela Lannom, photo by Jim Slonoff

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Pamela Lannom is editor of The Hinsdalean