Research projects helps homeless youth


Bre Heinrich came to ACU without a clear idea of what she wanted to do, but through faith and prayer, she's found her calling and has traveled across the world to pursue it.

Bre had first settled on psychology as her major, but found that social work better suited her desire to help people around the globe.

"I wanted the opportunity to help many different groups of people and to have the flexibility to work in many different environments," she explained. "Now that I have chosen social work, I cannot imagine myself doing anything else."

Haiti Mama

As Bre went through the program, she began a side project for a course that turned into much more than she expected. Through research and interviews, she crossed paths with Tausha Pearson, a social worker who founded a nonprofit organization called Haiti Mama.

This connection, combined with Bre’s desire to work internationally, afforded her the opportunity to travel to Haiti for two months and do what she felt she was called to do. That work eventually turned into a research project that has been accepted for presentation at a national conference this spring.

Haiti Mama works to reunify homeless youth in Haiti with their families instead of putting them into orphanages. In 2010, a catastrophic earthquake hit Port-au-Prince, and the number of homeless/unaccompanied youth in Haiti dramatically increased, making it a good area to gather data. Bre's goal was to analyze what attachment levels and self-care habits look like for homeless street children who have been reunified with their families and compare those levels to children currently in orphanages.

"The best part of this opportunity to me was being able to apply in a practical way all of the information I have been learning in my classes. I made so many more mental connections through this hands-on approach to learning that helped confirm that I want to become a social worker," she said.

Learning by doing

Though living in Haiti for two months was a tough adjustment for Bre, it wasn’t all work and no play. After building connections and learning her way around the country, Bre found time to build relationships and travel to mountain lookouts over the entire city of Port-au-Prince.

"Unlike most week-long group trips, I was thrilled to be able to live in native Haitian communities and become immersed in the culture for a substantial amount of time that gave me a real look into international living," she said.
"None of my classes could prepare me completely to conduct research, problem-solve and arrange transportation in this environment."

Now that Bre is back at ACU, she is working with Dr. Stephen Baldridge, director of the Bachelor of Science in Social Work Program and associate professor of social work, to publish her work and plans to have it presented to the Haitian government in hopes to gain financial support for the reunification model Haiti Mama is pioneering in the country.

"Haiti chose me, because I cannot find any logical explanation to describe how a simple Skype interview led to research approval, winning two grants, and a flight to Haiti to spend two months working among native Haitians," she said. "In every way, God opened every unlikely door that could never be explained otherwise."

A testament to faith

Bre described her experience as a testament to how prayer, faith and obedience can turn a small seed of a dream into blossoming a reality.

"You don't have to travel somewhere crazy or do something that is visible to hundreds of people to be following your calling," she says. "I have been extremely humbled to see how God took a prayer to travel and do something 'big' that I have been praying since I was a little girl, and He made it possible. He took my tiny 'yes' and mustard seed of faith and showed me what He can do when we are obedient to His callings."

Learn more about ACU's School of Social Work