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ASU's Long uses life experiences to assist others

August 07, 2008

For Krista Long, receiving her bachelor’s degree in social work from Arizona State University’s College of Human Services may have been the easiest part of a journey that has included divorce, homelessness, a child with disabilities, countless starts and stops, and any number of other challenges that would test the strongest mother/parent/student.

Long, 34, came to ASU’s West campus in 2006. Her odyssey to that point included marriage at age 20 to a man later diagnosed as bi-polar; the birth of a son, Konal, who has behavioral problems that may be the result of the “chaos that followed us wherever we went”; the birth of twins, one of whom was stillborn, the other, Aidan, was born with hydrocephalus (once referred to as “water on the brain”); divorce after seven years of marriage and her own bouts with depression.

Along the way, Long, who graduated from high school in central California, enrolled at Glendale Community College in 1995 with an interest in library science and an eye on an associate of arts degree. During her two years at GCC, she worked at Best Western International Hotels’ Phoenix headquarters, advancing from a position in reservations to become the administrator of the chain’s training department.

Her new-found interest in hotel and restaurant management led her to Northern Arizona University in Flagstaff. Her husband, Steve, fell ill with appendicitis, but received no sick pay. Savings dwindled and a reduction of her course credits at NAU led to the family being removed from campus housing. A local church pitched in to provide shelter, but in the spring of 2000, her husband was diagnosed with acute psychosis. Child Protective Services stepped in and removed him from the family.

“I sometimes wonder what I would do without crisis in my life,” says Long reflectively. “I’m one of those people, I guess, who, if it can happen, it will. But, you learn to deal with it and you have to be careful not to create another crisis.”

She has followed her own advice. Returning to the Valley, Long received her A.A. from Estrella Community College and transferred to ASU’s West campus, enrolling in its College of Human Services to focus on social work courses.

In May, Long graduated cum laude, earning recognition during commencement from faculty and classmates as the college’s outstanding student.

Already gainfully employed in the social services field, she has her sights set on working on the community and policy levels of social services where she hopes to help effect reform in Arizona’s mental health system for children. She has been on the board of directors of the Family Involvement Center since 2005, providing input to the family-directed organization that addresses ways to improve children’s mental health programs.

Long knows the lessons learned at ASU will give her an advantage and are already being put to the test at EMPACT Suicide Prevention Center, a community services provider where she works as a resource specialist. Her work at EMPACT-SPC includes collaborating with other community agencies, soliciting donations, and helping navigate Arizona’s entitlement systems to assist low-income families meet their basic needs.

“I learned from faculty and staff how to juggle my family’s needs with my own,” says Long, whose grandmother was a reference librarian at the old Matthews Library on ASU’s Tempe campus. “I’ve also had to mediate difficult situations at EMPACT-SPC, which is something I learned through the social work program. My internship with the MISS Foundation (a non-profit organization created by ASU assistant professor Joanne Cacciatore dedicated to providing support to grieving individuals and families) helped me learn to deal compassionately with raw emotion, such as grief, while staying focused on meeting the needs of the person and the family.”

Long’s long journey has been punctuated by her degree, but she sees even greater success ahead and wants to pursue a master’s degree in social work in hopes of being able to research the community care model, featuring a focus on keeping clients in the home and in the community, in relation to institutional residential treatment. Her life experience may include heartbreak, but her outlook is upbeat.

“What I have learned is that I can do it,” she says, referring to the balancing act she has performed over the years. “It may be hard, but you get there eventually. Even with my family – we’re not there yet, but we’ve come a long way.

“Even if I were in the same position now as I was 10 years ago, it wouldn’t be as overwhelming, because I have seen the support and where it comes from, and I have grown personally and I see the light. There was a time I didn’t know if there was a way out.”

She can rely on personal experience to carve her niche in the social work field.

“The basis of my work is my past experiences,” says Long, who is engaged to be married and describes her 10-year-old son Aidan today as a “typical child.” “But, the emphasis can’t be on me, because it isn’t fair to those you are serving. However, you can share the parallel to help them understand and to let them know you’ve been there.

“That’s where the social work skills come in. You find the needs and you know when to insert yourself or step back.”