Alumna’s Inspiring Journey in Social Work

Alumna’s Inspiring Journey in Social Work

Andrea Byerly
Thursday, October 19, 2023 12:00 AM
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CLEVELAND, TN - Working with child protective services, the juvenile justice system, orphaned children in South Africa, community health services and public education, Cleveland State alumna, Laura Vacheresse, has served her community and the world as a social worker! She discovered the diversity of the social work field writing a research paper during high school and took the first steps to her career at Cleveland State Community College. 

“Social work is such a diverse and rewarding field,” said Vacheresse. “Throughout my career I have been able to work with countless adults, children and their families during some of the toughest times of their lives. There is nothing more humbling and rewarding than to be able to walk through these moments with fellow humans and be able to offer support and encouragement.”

Growing up in Etowah, Tennessee, Vacheresse graduated from McMinn Central High School and attended Cleveland State with work study and Hope scholarships. She chose Cleveland State because, “It was a good transition for me going from a small high school, and I knew I wanted to take advantage of the scholarships I had received.”

Vacheresse completed her associate of science degree and was the recipient of the Human Services/Social Work Award her final year at Cleveland State. With the help of Jana Pankey, Associate Professor of Social Work, and the Cleveland State transfer agreements with the University of Tennessee, Knoxville (UTK), Vacheresse received a full scholarship to complete her bachelor’s degree at UTK. 

Earning a child welfare scholarship from the Department of Children’s Services allowed Vacheresse to graduate with a certificate in child welfare and also guaranteed a job after the completion of her degree. She started her career in child protective services. After two years, she moved to juvenile justice working with youth who had delinquent charges. 

Vacheresse completed her master of science degree in social work from UTK and began her journey towards clinical licensure while providing outpatient mental health therapy with the Helen Ross McNabb Center. She and her husband spent a year in South Africa writing grants and working with orphaned children as volunteers for a strategic planning office. 

After returning to Tennessee, Vacheresse provided outpatient therapy at Chota Community Health Services until beginning her work in public schools. Along with being a Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW) through the Tennessee Department of Health, she obtained licensure from the Tennessee Department of Education as a licensed school social worker. First, she worked for Polk County Schools, and now, Vacheresse serves as the Crisis Intervention Counselor at Cleveland City Schools.

“I have been blessed with so many wonderful people who have helped me reach my goal of becoming an LCSW, and I love fulfilling my duty to my profession by offering this same support to others,” Vacheresse said. “The support I found at Cleveland State continues to follow me to this day. Mrs. Pankey was my advisor and teacher throughout my time at Cleveland State. I began my journey there in 2005, and since then in every role and challenge throughout my career, she has continued to be a support to me. This is one of the greatest gifts I could have ever received from any educational experience.”

“Laura has achieved so much in her academic and professional career, and I am so proud of her accomplishments,” said Pankey. “She always had such a compassionate heart and social work is definitely her calling.”

Pankey continued, “The Social Work Program at Cleveland State is the only associate of science degree in the state of Tennessee that offers a comprehensive curriculum preparing our students for the great successes we have witnessed with our alumni. We have graduates working in organizations addressing issues of human trafficking, incarceration, homelessness, mental health, substance abuse and other major social problems.”

Vacheresse’s husband, Josiah, is a teacher at Cleveland High School. They have one son and are expecting their second son this year.  She says, “All professions have their own unique set of challenges and joys. Social work can be a demanding field, but finding a good balance, a professional support system and ensuring positive self-care makes it possible.”

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