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Congregations and Health: Research Directions

Chasing the American Dream


Sparking Change in South Carolina

Spigner K300When Katrina Spigner enrolled in the USC College of Social Work, she knew she wanted to use her master’s degree to solve problems on a larger scale than one family at a time.

Spigner, who graduated in 2003, has been using her skills to develop and facilitate the Sisters of Charity Foundation of South Carolina's catalytic grant-making program. As senior program director, she helps administer the grant review process and coaches organizations that win grants. She is responsible for strategic grants, which accounted for $627,000 of the foundation’s $2.1 million in grants in 2013. She also oversees the foundation’s Carolina Academy, an education component of the foundation's work to enhance the skills needed by nonprofit leaders to build organizational capacity.

Spigner continues as a learner. She’s now pursuing a doctoral degree in organizational leadership.

After a series of life changes, Spigner said her path veered toward social work. In  1999 changes included marriage separation and loss of her father. At 36 years old with two young children, she realized that her career prospects were limited because she had only a high school diploma.

Spigner enrolled in the Evening College at Columbia College to earn her bachelor’s degree in social work. Juggling two part-time jobs, each day she would come home, kiss her children goodnight before settling down to write papers and prepare for exams.

She graduated with honors in 2001, and decided to pursue her master’s in social work at USC through its full-time, accelerated program. She enrolled in the summer of 2002. She learned how to engage communities and advance change through courses in organizational change and organizational capacity building.

She studied under Drs. Sadie Logan and Teresa Tirrito, now both retired, and Dr. Cynthia Forrest, now a professor of social work at Winthrop University. She also worked part-time at the USC Center for Child and Family Studies. Her experiences allowed her to see that social work wasn’t confined to handling cases for a state agency.

In 2003, she graduated with the College of Social Work faculty's highest honor for academic excellence. After graduation, she served as the director of field internships and as a social work lecturer at Columbia College.

In 2005, Spigner joined the staff of the Sisters of Charity Foundation in 2005—allowing her to deepen her practice. She is able to work closely with the people she’s serving. She can hear their stories, and connect them with her own experiences. Her training from USC then helps her understand the context that allows her to work toward systemic change.

“The program opened my vision of the possibilities,” she said. “Those of us who are committed to this vocation of social work, we have the opportunity to offer others transformation.”

Social worker Lisa Von Dohlen is a voice for students.

Dohlen, a COSW alumna, is the 2013 School Social Worker of the Year for Buncombe County, NC, Schools. In addition, she recently won a Hilton HHonors Teacher Treks Travel Grant. With the grant, she will spend one month in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico. She hopes to increase her understanding of Latino culture and, in turn, improve immigrant students’ connections to the school and community.

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Cooper-Lewter - Agent of Change“Walking Alongside” the Marginalized at Sisters of Charity Foundation of South Carolina

USC College of Social Work alumna Dr. Stephanie Cooper-Lewter has been working as an agent of change in South Carolina—but not in ways that many would expect of a social work professional.

As the Senior Director of Research at the Sisters of Charity Foundation of South Carolina, Dr. Cooper-Lewter is engaged in a field that she says often is “not the first thing on the radar” for social work graduates. “A lot of students don’t think about philanthropy,” she said. “But we need social workers to be a part of the conversations about investing in different social issues.”


boltzdorene 350x350Dorene Boltz, LISW-CP, (’02) loves working with people and helping them deal with trauma they have experienced. As a psychotherapist at Joint Behavioral Health Services at Moncrief Army Community Hospital at Fort Jackson, she works with active duty service members and veterans who have been deployed to Afghanistan and Iraq.

In addition to one-on-one therapy, Boltz conducts several classes for her clients. One of them, Transitioning Warzone Skills, focuses on helping veterans recognize and tone down the survival strategies that have served them well in the warzone, but that are not as needed or helpful in their home lives. Another class, Mindfulness Meditation, teaches clients to regulate their emotions and helps them relax.


Martin A 350x350Amanda Martin, ’03, embodies the ethos and spirit of life-changing social work. She received the College of Social Work’s Alumna of the Year Award in 2010 for her work in Guatemala and her service in the Peace Corps.

In 2012 she was the plenary speaker at the Rotary International Convention, where she addressed an audience of over 20,000 members in Bangkok. She passionately describes her work in a Burmese refugee camp, where she has established the first public health college for adult refugees on the Thai-Burma border. Over 138,000 refugees reside in nine camps in the area. Martin lives and works in the Umphiem Mai refugee camp.


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