The challenges are daunting, the frustrations commonplace. But Nicole Wong ’15 says there’s nothing she’d rather be doing than help victims of domestic violence change their lives. And although she won’t graduate until May, Wong has already launched her career at a Poughkeepsie agency that takes on these challenges every day. “What we do is definitely emotionally taxing sometimes, but it’s also rewarding,” Wong says. “The strength my clients have is inspiring.”
A sociology and English double major from Queens, NY, Wong was recently hired as senior high-risk case manager for the Domestic Violence Services division of Family Services of Poughkeepsie. She joined Family Services as an intern last January, worked full time as a domestic violence counselor over the summer, and spent up to 30 hours a week at the agency while studying full time at Vassar this fall. She began her new job Nov. 24 and will be juggling her responsibilities there with her schoolwork for the balance of the academic year. It’s a rigorous schedule, but Wong says she’s enjoying both worlds.
“I take some of my tougher cases home with me sometimes,” she says, “but I have supportive friends on campus who understand what I do and help me cope. And all of us on the staff (at Family Services) help each other – it’s a safe and caring place to work.”
Leah Feldman, director of Domestic Violence Services, says Wong was hired after she had scrutinized several candidates for the high-level position. Feldman says she decided Wong was the most qualified. “This isn’t an entry-level job; Nicole will be coordinating a multidisciplinary team, and she’ll be working on some of our toughest cases,” Feldman says, “but she’s proven she’s highly skilled working with clients and with others in the field.”
One of Wong’s duties will be coordinating the work of the Dutchess County Universal Response to Domestic Violence, a team of professionals from women’s shelters, mental health agencies, law enforcement agencies, and the district attorney’s office. She says she expects this aspect of her job to be one of the most challenging but also one of the most satisfying. “Everyone on the committee has a slightly different role to play in addressing this issue, but by working as a team, we can find and promote better ways to help our clients, and that’s at the center of everything we do,” Wong says.
Feldman says Wong’s ability to work with others in the criminal justice system is one of her strengths. “Nicole has the ability to be a strong advocate while being diplomatic as she works with a wide variety of people,” she says.
Wong did volunteer work when she was in high school, principally as a fundraiser for the American Cancer Society, but she didn’t become involved in combating violence against women until she came to Vassar. “I was a member of a house team that dealt with these issues early in my sophomore year, and I found I had a genuine passion for it,” she says. “My internship at Family Services enabled me to begin to do this work in the larger community.”
Wong says she’s looking forward to pursuing this mission full time. “I know I have a lot to learn,” she says, hefting a five-inch thick Domestic Violence Services training manual, “but I’ll be receiving plenty of training, and Leah and everyone else on the staff are always available to brainstorm a particularly difficult case.”
Wong says she is learning to cope with the inevitable disappointments that are part of the job. “A lot of days, you have feelings of helplessness as court dates are postponed and things don’t happen as fast as you think they should,” she says. “But part of the job is learning what your boundaries and limitations are and working through them, and that’s when the support of the staff is so important.”
Wong says she also gains strength from another source: her family. “Mom and Dad were a little scared for me at first. They were worried I might not always be safe doing what I do,” she says. “But they’re behind me. They know I’ve found my passion. Working here has been one of the best experiences I’ve ever had, and I’m working with some of the best people I’ve ever met.
“When I came to Vassar as a freshman, I had an idea I wanted to pursue a career in public relations,” Wong says. “My life has certainly taken a different turn since then, but all of my activities at Vassar -- my studies, being on the house team, getting the internship, all of it has led to this.”
Photo: Carlisle Stockton