Huntington University is a Christian liberal arts college in Indiana

Seeking to Serve

Jennifer (Harris) Bonewitz on advantages of sociology degree program at Huntington University, a Christian college.

"I chose Huntington because I wanted the smaller-school atmosphere and Christian emphasis. The sociology program prepares you well for the challenges you’ll encounter in the social-service field."

You know you’ve found a nice niche when your employer’s mission statement reads like the “objectives” section on your résumé.

Jennifer (Harris) Bonewitz, a 1997 Huntington University graduate, has found just that kind of fulfilling position as supervisor of the Healthy Families program within Lutheran Social Services of Indiana.

The mission statement reads, “Lutheran Social Services of Indiana is a social ministry organization guided and sustained by the love of Jesus Christ. We will serve those in need, particularly those with few options and opportunities.”

It sounds a lot like Jennifer’s wish list: “I always knew that I wanted to go into a major that dealt with people,” she said. “I chose sociology because I’ve always had a strong heart for people. I’ve always been interested in people and what I can do to help them better themselves, and I knew my strong Christian background would serve me well in that.”

Jennifer grew up in Richmond, Ind., a cozy city of 40,000 people near the Ohio state line. “I chose Huntington University because I wanted the smaller-school atmosphere and Christian emphasis,” Jennifer said.

“The sociology program prepares you well for the challenges you’ll encounter in the social-service field,” she said, “especially in understanding people of other backgrounds and really listening to them as they express their specific needs.”

Jennifer joined Lutheran Social Services of Indiana as a family-assessment worker shortly after graduation in July 1997. Her conscientious efforts resulted in her promotion to supervisor in October 1999.

Healthy Families, part of the nationwide Healthy Families America, is just one of the many programs LSSI provides to help people in need. Healthy Families’ goal is to prevent child abuse and neglect in at-risk families.

“Healthy Families is so very important because many children are born into families that can’t provide for them emotionally, physically or mentally, and this program provides a support network for those families,” Jennifer said. “Healthy Families is a free and voluntary home-based program used to promote positive interaction between children and parents.”

And as she’s serving families in need, Jennifer is serving God, too. “LSSI is a Christian organization,” she said. “We’re free to and encouraged to demonstrate our Christian beliefs here. That’s easier for me to do now that I’m a supervisor because I work primarily with the staff and not so much with families. Healthy Families has no Christian ties, and we don’t usually use that approach with our families, unless they express a desire to talk about their faith.

“Huntington readied me for my profession by providing classes that prepared me for the diverse populations I deal with now,” Jennifer continued. “The faculty kept us informed on the types of jobs available — and the ones we’d enjoy most — in our field after graduation. And, the practicums and internships that I completed were very beneficial because I received important hands-on experience.”

Jennifer also found experience — and joy — through Huntington’s Joe Mertz Center for Volunteer Service, a student-directed organization that mobilizes the campus community for Christian service. She was very active in Habitat for Humanity and in Bridges, a program through which Huntington students serve as tutors and role models for local elementary-age children. (Many students, faculty and staff members give generously of their time and talents serving God and the local community. The campus gives more than 11,000 hours of volunteer service each year.)

“In addition to the invaluable skills and experience I gained at Huntington, I gained confidence, which you definitely need in this profession, especially as a supervisor,” she said. “Social work isn’t an easy field, but the work is rewarding.

“Huntington prepared me spiritually for this job, too,” Jennifer continues. “Working for a Christian-based agency allows me to demonstrate my faith to my co-workers and those I supervise in both actions and words. Huntington allowed and encouraged my faith to grow stronger. For that, I feel blessed. I’m very thankful that I’m able to work in this kind of environment. “Overall, I think my experience at Huntington helped me become a well-rounded individual, and that’s a very important personal attribute no matter what you choose to do in life.”

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