Alum Breaking Barriers in Social Work

Each year March is dedicated as National Social Work Month, but the students and alumni from North Central State College continue to break barriers every day.  It’s that passion for helping others break their own barriers that began Lasha Winters journey to becoming a Licensed Social Worker.  “I chose to be a social worker so I could have the knowledge and skillset to help heal the hearts of those in addiction by empowering and advocating for them daily,” Winters says.

Social workers are known for their compassion and ability to break barriers, not only within themselves but their clients as well. “North Central State College taught me how to push through barriers; in my field and my personal life,”  she says. “In my classes at North Central State College, I learned about many theories and ways to help those in need,” Winters explains.  “We learned about all the different components that interact and influence a person’s behavior and thinking.”

Winters is a first-generation student, meaning she was the first in her family to graduate from college. “My mom finished her GED, and my dad didn’t finish high school.   I was lucky to be a part of NC State’s TRiO program, a program that helps first-generation students in college,” Winters says.  TRiO provides and coordinates a variety of educational support services for first-generation students, low-income, and/or students with disabilities.  “Being the first in my family to go to college, TRiO added support that I didn’t have around me in a culture that didn’t emphasize education.  TRiO provided me with the encouragement I needed.”

“At one point, I required help financially, and they encouraged me to apply for a grant that would help pay a bill I was unable to afford at the time,” Winters says gratefully.  “It helped ensure my success in college when I didn’t come from a background that gave me a lot of support.  Being a mom, going to school full-time, and working, I didn’t have time to go out and find another job.  With their help, I didn’t have to choose between my education and my job, TRiO stepped in and I was able to focus on school and finish the semester.”

While attending North Central State College, Winters changed her major from education to social work with the encouragement of her professors.  “While I enjoyed my English classes at the college, I became extremely interested in the Hull House Movement, which I happen to read about in one of my classes,” Winters explains.  The Hull House was Chicago’s first social settlement.  It was not only the private home of Jane Addams and other Hull House residents but also a place where immigrants of diverse communities gathered to learn, eat, debate, and acquire the tools necessary to put down roots in their new country.  “I had a particular professor that saw my interest in helping others and suggested that I pursue a career in social work.”

After graduating from the Human and Social Work program at North Central in 2019, Winters continued her education at Mount Vernon Nazarene University where she obtained her bachelor’s degree.  “The classes I took at NC State transitioned into their program easily,” Winters says. “The professors and staff at North Central helped set me up to be successful in my bachelor’s program as well.”

Winters was part of the North Central State College Honor Society.  By participating in projects at the college, she realized the need for qualified social workers in the Mansfield area.  “I did volunteer work and put together fundraisers for the Harmony House Homeless Shelter,” Winters says.  “We took donations and with the help of my classmates, we donated over 100 pillows to help homeless men, women, and children in our area.”

Winters continues to pay her kindness and compassion forward.  She is currently a Licensed Social Worker at Healing Hearts Counseling Center, a behavioral health and wellness center in Mansfield.  The mission of employees at the center is to provide mental health and addiction services.  “We have a diverse and wide array of clients from all different ages and ethnicities,” Winter says.  “You never know who is going to be impacted by addiction so it’s open to anyone that needs help to begin their recovery journey. I am breaking barriers by helping to be a consistent person for those in need.  In today’s society, we don’t always have consistency, and I want to be that person who is enabling change in our community.”

“As a licensed social worker I want to be a part of reducing the stigma around Substance Abuse Disorder (SUD) diagnosis,” Winters says.  A SUD is a mental disorder that affects a person’s brain and behavior, leading to a person’s inability to control their use of substances such as legal or illegal drugs, alcohol, or medications. “As a social worker, I want to help share the importance of treating substance abuse as a mental health disorder, as a disease rather than a decision to just go out and use drugs.   It’s a medical diagnosis that needs treatment, so being able to help educate people and provide definitions is actively participating in shutting down those stigmatizing stereotypes.  That’s helping to break barriers!”