Alumni in Focus: Bethany LaLonde
After her graduation from Cazenovia College as class valedictorian, with a bachelor’s degree in Human Services, Bethany LaLonde knew she wanted to pursue a career in social work. LaLonde, SSW'08, received her MSW from Rutgers with a specialization in Management and Policy. During her time at Rutgers, LaLonde gained experience in various facets of social work, including positions as a mental health advisor at Upstate Cerebral Palsy and a workshop facilitator at Counseling, ADAP & Psychiatric Services (CAPS) at Rutgers.
LaLonde also interned at Disability Rights New Jersey (DRNJ), an opportunity that, looking back, helped shape her career path. DRNJ is private, non-profit organization that advocates for the human, civil and legal rights of disabled citizens and promotes public awareness of the disabled as equal members of the community. LaLonde was hired at DRNJ after graduation and cultivated her skills as an advocate and social worker. LaLonde worked for DRNJ until 2013, when Disability Rights New York was created. She joined the team as a Client Assistance Program Advocate and became an integral contributor in the newly designated protection and advocacy agency for the state of New York. As DRNY expanded, she had an opportunity to provide input and assist with the development of the CAP program priorities and facilitate outreach on the legal rights of individuals seeking vocational rehabilitation services throughout New York City.
However, being a part of the development of the newly formed DRNY involved its own unique set of challenges. “We didn’t have an office in the city for a year,” LaLonde said. “I had to do a lot of traveling, interviewing people in different places. I spent a lot of time traveling among the boroughs.” From its 2013 inception, DRNY has grown substantially. In two short years, the DRNY network has opened offices in Brooklyn, Rochester, and Albany. DRNY continues to expand its programs and outreach while investigating complaints and providing direct assistance to New Yorkers with disabilities.
For LaLonde, much of her success is due to her time at Rutgers. She says the School of Social Work expanded her opportunities and methods of practice. During her first year, she discovered direct counseling was not the best fit for her. When she began the Management and Policy concentration, everything came together. “Learning about advocacy and getting the opportunity to work at DRNJ was a real eye opener for me.” LaLonde also remarked about the number of Rutgers SSW alumni working throughout New Jersey. Her supervisor and mentor at DRNJ is RUSSW alum, Ellen Catanese. LaLonde said that there is a great network of Rutgers SSW pride in New Jersey. “And I have to say, I am very happy, very proud alum.”