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King professor works to teach students about service

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Jodi Helbert

Jodi Helbert (second from left) receives is a 2022 YWCA Tribute to Women Award recipient in the “Empower” category. She received the award recently from the Tribute to Women committee of the YWCA.

King University professor Dr. Jodi Helbert is all about service.

In 2014, the East Kentucky native revived a dying social work program at the closing Virginia Intermont College by moving it to nearby King University.

A 2022 YWCA Tribute to Women Award recipient in the “Empower” category, Helbert continues to serve as coordinator of the Bachelor of Social Work Program at King, where she tries to instill compassion and empathy in her students daily.

“I have a platform at King as a professor and as the administrator in my program,” Helbert said, adding that the program is one of the fastest growing at King University.

The daughter of a single mother who worked in the coal mines, Helbert went from a childhood home life that didn’t exactly prioritize a future in higher education to becoming her family’s first college graduate and now a clinical social worker and psychotherapist. That journey is not something she takes full responsibility for.

“That was all God-led,” Helbert said. “I’ve always had a heart for vulnerable people, and God kind of put a tug in me, or a calling, I would say, to help people.”

Helbert didn’t even know social workers did therapy until later in life when that revelation led her to go back to college and get a degree in social work.

Now, Helbert continues her mission to foster development and growth at King through the social work program, one she says has become one of the campus’s largest with over 200 students.

“Social workers are essential,” Helbert said. “We knew this pre-pandemic, but we certainly know it [now]. We have grand challenges that we face and that we tackle, some of which are stopping family violence and domestic violence, but also helping children to develop in a healthy way free of trauma.”

The mantra of King’s social work program is to shift mindsets from “serve us” to “service.” Helbert says she tries to expose her students to a range of experiences and encourages them to walk a mile in someone else’s shoes through assignments like a voluntary project to sleep outside at their home one night and imagine they are homeless. That kind of empathy-based thinking can help change the world, she said.

“I think the answer to everything very well may be love and compassion and kindness,” Helbert said. “Imagine, if the whole world was filled with that, what we would overcome.”

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