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Scholarship honours pair who serve

  • January 15, 2021

Two social workers with Catholic Family Services of Simcoe County are the latest recipients of the annual Fr. Paul Lennon/Doreen Cullen Social Work Scholarship.

Rissa Sawh and Maria Giselle Mello Murphy each received the award for their service within the field. The honour awards each recipient $5,000 for the pursuit of studies in social work in a degree-granting social work or diploma-granting social services program in an accredited Ontario college or university.

“It’s great to encounter future social workers who are cut from the same cloth as Doreen Cullen and Fr. Lennon, who were motivated by their faith to go out into the world and serve others,” said Michael Fullan, Catholic Charities’ executive director. “The continued presence of COVID-19, with all the stress it is placing on the community, is reminding us daily of why social workers matter so much.”

The scholarship is named in honour of Lennon and Cullen, who both preceded Fullan as executive director of Catholic Charities.

Sawh, who has been with Catholic Family Services for the past two and half years, is studying online in the Bachelor of Social Work program at Sudbury, Ont.’s Laurentian University. Prior to entering the field, she spent 12 years working in hospitality management before making a career change.

She began volunteering with various community organizations that ultimately led her to Catholic Family Services. As a mature student, Sawh says the Lennon/Cullen scholarship has helped to make her return to academia possible this year. Working in the role of program facilitator in community development for the past year, Sawh was recently promoted to education outreach co-ordinator at CFSSC

“It’s actually very humbling being able to just make the change (to go back to school) yourself,” said Sawh, who continues to work for Catholic Family Services four days a week while pursuing her studies. “It takes a lot of gumption, but to have people like Fr. Lennon and Doreen Cullen honour that effort is amazing. Just to be able to have this opportunity to go back and to devote those studies in a way that’s really going to help people in a tangible way means a lot.”

Mello Murphy, who once worked in the health field, also took the bold step to change careers. She earned her BSW at Laurentian in 2017 and completed her Master of Social Work at the University of Toronto’s Factor-Inwentash Faculty of Social Work in June of last year. She says the Lennon/Cullen award “came at the right time” as she assumed an opportunity such as this may not have been possible due to COVID-19. While working on her practicum as part of her masters studies program, she continued in a contract role at Catholic Family Services where she has worked  for the past four years. She was thrilled to not only receive the scholarship but also to land a full-time position with the organization in 2020.

Hired as program facilitator and intake worker at its mental health walk-in clinic, Mello Murphy began her journey into social work through volunteering with the Parish Outreach to Seniors (POTS) program which was developed in partnership with Catholic Family Service agencies.

“I’ve stuck with Catholic Family Services because I love working with them,” said Mello Murphy, a parishioner at St. John Vianney in Barrie, Ont.

“They are very people centred and that’s me at my core. I changed careers because I wanted to connect more with people one-on-one. Working for an agency that puts community first is what drew me to them. They also stand on Catholic principles and as a Catholic, it was important for me to work with an agency that shares the same beliefs.”

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