Lauren Sentovich's compassion motivated her to do missionary work in Indonesia and Thailand. Now she is developing the competency to become an effective social worker.

Through experience, Lauren Sentovich has learned that while compassion is a tremendous motivator for helping others, competency is vital for being truly effective at changing lives.

It's an awareness she started to develop while she was on other side of the world working with victims of sex trafficking in Thailand.

The realization eventually led her to Saint Leo's online MSW program, where she is now gaining the skills and knowledge, through a rigorous program of study, to make a difference in the lives of others.

"I have always had the desire to help people," says Lauren. "Social work is giving me the language and the tools to what I was feeling and what I want to do efficiently.

"Social work is the language to my heart."

And Lauren's heart is big.

Helping change lives in the Asian Pacific

Ever since hearing about human trafficking and social injustice around the world at a Christian youth conference, Lauren has made helping others and creating paths for change her life's mission.

During high school, Lauren and her twin sister started a homeless ministry. On Friday nights, they brought food to people living on the streets and eventually started connecting them to community resources. They visited the homeless in jail. They also volunteered with Big Brothers, Big Sisters and assisted weekly with bingo at a home for the elderly.

After graduating, Lauren participated in Youth with a Mission and spent three months in the Asian Pacific. She volunteered in orphanages in Indonesia teaching children English and worked with victims of the sex industry and human trafficking in Bangkok.

It was on a return trip to Indonesia that she that she met Lia in the city of Bali Karangan.

"Lia owned a brothel and was the richest woman I had met in Indonesia," says Lauren, "but she was suicidal and depressed. She been abused sexually and had prostituted herself in Brunei. But God completely changed her life while I was there. I shared the Gospel with her and eventually, she shut down the brothel."

Lauren says that Lia then attended cosmetology school and opened a hair salon. She trained and hired many of the women previously held captive in the brothel. Today, she runs a hotel. Her goal is to provide legitimate employment for as many women as possible who are trying to escape the sex industry.

"It's a complete 180-degree change from what she was doing before," says Lauren.

Adding competency to compassion

As Lauren encountered more women like Lia—women who had experienced sexual abuse and other trauma—she realized that to effectively help people, she would need additional knowledge and skills.

To do that, she earned a bachelor's degree in social work from a state university, and is currently pursuing a master's degree in Saint Leo's online Advanced Standing Master of Social Work (MSW) program.

Lauren says one of her Saint Leo professors, Dr. James Whitworth, told her class that clients care about two things—that you're compassionate and competent.

"I felt like I always was compassionate wanting to help the poor and oppressed, but before, I didn't feel as if I was competent."

Now, that is changing. On track to complete her degree in August, Lauren says her college education has provided her with "valuable perspective and the tools and techniques I can use to better serve people."

For example, she has learned to consider the biological, psychological, and socio-economic dimensions that affect people, as well as the spiritual aspect.

"My coursework has given me a more holistic view of a person and how someone's life is impacted by biological factors like physical illnesses and genetics and psychological factors such as mental illness and stress."

Lauren says she also has learned about cross-cultural competence and counseling trauma victims in a way that honors their culture during treatment.

"I have learned to focus on the whole person and how to listen and empathize objectively -- to assess the client's goals, hopes, dreams, and values and to take all of that into consideration to create a treatment plan that utilizes their strengths and culture."

MSW faculty make the difference

Lauren credits her Saint Leo professors with helping her gain both competency and confidence.

"They talk with you individually about your goals and passions and how you can reach them And they a good job at holding you accountable to the aspect of professionalism," she says

"I also appreciate the professors sharing their own stories and experiences in the field. They treat us with respect. We will be their future coworkers or employees one day and I appreciate the way they validate."

Another aspect of Saint Leo's MSW program that Lauren appreciates is that it is grounded in the university's core values.

"The core values are aligned with my values and my faith. It also aligned with my profession's values," she says. "Since Saint Leo is a Catholic university, I can have conversations with my professors that aid my social work and my faith."

Once Lauren graduates from Saint Leo, she hopes to secure a job with an international nonprofit so that she can return to Indonesia to continue her work helping women like Lia.

National Social Work Month

The National Association of Social Workers has designated March as National Social Work Month. For more information about National Social Work Month 2015 or the social work profession, visit This year's theme is "Social Work Paves the Way for Change."

What is your motivation to become a social worker? Share with us in the comments below!

Image credits: Mark Fischer/Flickr Creative Commons and courtesy Lauren Sentovich

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