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Livingstone student partners with GRACES for international internship

Livingstone College News Service

SALISBURY — Livingstone College senior Jessica Bledsoe works in Salisbury, but she is making a huge impact nearly 3,000 miles away.

The social work major is completing her internship at a local nonprofit organization called Guatemalan Relief Assistance for Children’s Educational Services (GRACES).

The organization finances a school in Antigua, Guatemala, called Escuela Integrada that helps break the cycle of poverty, malnutrition and illiteracy.

Paula Bohland, GRACES executive director, said 75 percent of the indigenous children never obtain an education. GRACES sponsors the total student population there, which is currently 161 children, totaling a modest $260,000 per year when compared to education costs in the United States.

GRACES held its inaugural Quetzal Gala on Saturday at the Country Club of Salisbury to raise money to continue its support of the Guatemalan school. Until now, GRACES has funded the school through sponsorships.

This was perfect timing for GRACES to get the extra help and assistance of a college student. Bledsoe has been busy with the organization helping to plan the gala and being an extra set of hands for Bohland, who is the only other staffer in the United States.

Hannah Nadeau, project director, works for GRACES in Guatemala but came to town this week for the gala.

“I have learned a lot about international social work and the proper way to do things,” Bledsoe said.

“Jessica has jumped in to help and has worked alongside me,” Bohland said.

The gala featured an educational component including models of the houses and stoves in Guatemala. Bledsoe created the models and food mock-ups of the typical breakfast and lunch that Guatemalans eat.

This is Bledsoe’s second time attending college. When she was 19 years old, she went to N.C. A&T State University in Greensboro with hopes of becoming a nurse, but she said she wasn’t focused and didn’t finish her degree. The Army veteran eventually ended up working at the VA Medical Center in Salisbury, where she retired after 25 years.

She came to Livingstone College through a vocational rehabilitation program and considered studying culinary arts and psychology, before deciding on social work.

“When I was growing up, my idea of a social worker was a white lady with glasses in a plaid skirt taking kids out of their homes and giving out cheese,” Bledsoe said.

But after speaking with some social work students at Livingstone, her idea about the field changed and she decided to pursue a social work career.

Frances Ferrante, director of field placement and an assistant professor at Livingstone College, said Bledsoe’s placement is the first at GRACES for the social work department at the college.

“This organization is doing inspiring work both locally and globally. We are fortunate to have our social work student, Jessica Bledsoe, placed under the supervision of a wonderful organization. Our student is working incredibly hard and learning a great deal about international social work,” Ferrante said. “We would love the opportunity to partner with other social work agencies in the county.”

Bledsoe said she now finds herself on conference calls with peers in Guatemala and is headed on her first trip out of the country come November, when she will fly there to visit the school she is helping.

The mother of four children, three of which are triplets, will graduate in December and plans to obtain her master’s degree.

“This internship has taught me a lot,” Bledsoe said.

For more information about GRACES, visit www.weareGRACES.org.

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