A Passion for the Special-Needs Community
In November 2011, Kailee Bauman, Master of Social Work (MSW) student and recipient of a Barbara Solomon Scholarship for Social Work, enrolled her eldest son in Sunshine School & Development Center, a day habilitation program for individuals with special needs. Prior to her pediatrician’s referral, she wasn’t even aware the school existed.
Bauman’s son was 3½ years old at the time, nonverbal, and with a cognitive age equivalent of an 18-month-old. “I had been consumed by worry about his severe delays and homebound by his needs, unable to work and help support our family,” says Bauman. “My husband was a graduate student whose paycheck was far too small to tackle a mounting pile of bills. We were poor, discouraged, and ignorant of what resources were available to us.”
This situation is all too familiar in Rogers, Arkansas, where more than 15% of the 63,000 residents live in poverty and 11% of school-age students in the Rogers School District have special needs. Rogers is in Benton County, just 8 miles away from Bentonville, home of Walmart.
Since starting her Walden MSW program, Bauman has become very aware of how social work services could have positively impacted her and wants to focus on how she can help families like hers. “At the beginning, we didn’t know where to start because the issues were so complex. I wasn’t even completely certain how we were deficient; I just knew we needed help,” she says. “I want to bridge the gap and serve families with not only help from a therapeutic side, but also with how to come to grips with a lot of the unique needs a child might have and be sure to get families in touch with resources they didn’t know existed.”
Bauman’s transition to social work is very different from where she started her career. “Prior to now, the bulk of my work experience was in business. Living in this area, everyone ends up at the home office at one point or another,” she says, referring to Walmart headquarters. “It was practical and helped my family, but I didn’t love it. Merchandising sucked the soul right out of me. During the height of my son's difficulty, I was unable to resume working there. It was one aspect I was not sad about!”
Social work, however, feels right on every level for the mom of four. In 2015, a year and a half after her son graduated from Sunshine School, Bauman walked back through the doors—this time as the school’s due process coordinator and special education assistant. “Sunshine School was an answer to prayer; it changed our lives. I realized my experience as both a special-needs parent and now as a special education employee gave me a unique vantage point. But in order to really serve the families like I want to, I knew unequivocally that I needed social work licensure and a master’s-level education from an accredited university,” she explains.
Walden’s MSW program has opened Bauman’s eyes to even more possibilities. “I hadn’t previously considered helping on a macro level and the potential impact I could have on policy,” she says. “It’s been a huge encouragement because I feel like I can do something within my community to effect change for these kids, and I didn’t anticipate that at all.”
Bauman is now focusing on earning her MSW while taking care of her children and consulting with Sunshine School, where she will be interning over the summer. “On a personal level, it’s been really rewarding to find my calling,” she says. “It’s been overwhelming seeing how things are crystalizing for me. Since starting the social work program, it’s like a puzzle piece finally fits. This is what I’m supposed to be doing.”