Social work graduates impact national organization

cis conference photo
From left to right: Lauren Anderson and Karli Smith.

Two ACU social work graduates parted ways after graduation, but through launching new programs in Communities in Schools, they’ve reconnected at the organization’s national conference.

Karli Smith and Lauren Anderson graduated with their Master’s of Science in Social Work in 2015 and started working for Communities in Schools (CIS), a nonprofit organization whose mission is to surround students with a community of support, empowering them to stay in school and achieve in life.

Anderson and Smith began implementing new programs for CIS, Anderson in Abilene and Smith in Midland. Both women presented their ideas at a first of its kind national conference July 12 called the Student Supports Virtual Summit.

Smith’s program idea started with her master’s thesis. CIS already had a program for mentoring adolescent boys, so Smith decided to create a similar mentoring program for young girls. After she graduated, she was hired to implement the program in Midland.

She named the program FACES, which stands for Friendship, Acceptance, Connection, Encouragement, and Sisterhood  – the five components of the mentoring program.

“It’s me trying to show Christ’s love to these students,” Smith said. “Just saying to them that somebody cared about them.”

The national CIS office contacted her about the national conference, asking her to apply to create a presentation about the program. She soon found out one of her former classmates would also be presenting.

Anderson works for CIS as a Student Success Coach at Abilene’s Mann Middle School. CIS trains social workers to use restorative practices, which are systems of intervention that involve reconciliation and community in the midst of conflict. One restorative practice, called a circle process, brings parents, teachers and other important people in a child’s life together to help the child return to school after being disciplined.

“I really loved the concept with the very intentional and very tangible way of telling a student you’re there for them,” Anderson said.

After coordinating several student success circles at Mann, Anderson submitted a proposal to the national CIS conference and was accepted. She joined Smith in Washington, D.C., where they presented their ideas before a live audience and a virtual audience of CIS leaders around the nation through online streaming.

Only about 25 presenters were accepted to the conference. As first-year professionals and recent graduates, Smith and Anderson were some of the youngest members to present at summit, “which is a huge testament to ACU,” Anderson said.