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Caring More: Social work alum receives prestigious award

April 15, 2014

Jennifer CardinalGiven her background, forging a career in social work was practically preordained for Jennifer Cardinal.

Canadian by birth, she spent most of her formative years in South Africa before moving to the U.S. and the Kansas City area in the late 1990s. During her young life and her travels, she saw many various societies – and, the issues that come with them – as well as a myriad of lifestyles from opposite ends of the Earth and places in between.

“I grew up in South Africa during Apartheid, and here I was sort of this punk kid in the ‘80s,” Cardinal said. “It was like living in the Deep South with the Jim Crow laws.

“My grandfather was a philanthropist. I had an aunt that was a social worker who became a lawyer and now is an ombudsman.

“I grew up with an understanding of poverty. I learned through my parents’ examples  that you can’t fix the whole thing, but you can have an impact on individuals.”

Cardinal, who graduated from Avila University with a bachelor’s in social work as Jennifer Muench in 2010, has put those understandings to practical use in her efforts in social work and recently was recognized for that work. She received the Caring More Award from Crossroads Hospice, a chain of hospice care facilities in seven states across the U.S., presented to outstanding social workers who go above and beyond to improve lives through their work with patients and in their communities.

The award includes a $500 prize to the charity of the recipient’s choice; Cardinal selected the Rose Brooks Center, a domestic violence shelter.

“It is really very humbling,” said Cardinal, who currently works as director of social services for the Sweet Life at Brookdale Place, a skilled nursing facility, in Overland Park, Kan. “Being recognized for the things we do is nice. But, I go back to how I got here.”

Avila played a big part in that, Cardinal said. She transferred from Penn Valley Community College in 2008 after being recruited by Lindee Petersen Wilson, assistant professor of social work. She said she fully immersed herself in Avila’s small class sizes and personalized, real-life experiences she enjoyed during her practicums – the “high level of academic standing,” she said.

She was a two-time recipient of the Women’s Studies Scholarship at Avila, was named a Distinguished Scholar Award recipient at Student Scholar Day in 2010 and was the Social Work Department’s Dorothy Gallagher Award recipient in 2010.

Wilson played a major role in her matriculation, Cardinal said.

“I credit everything I value about being a social worker to her,” said Cardinal, who went on to receive her master’s in social work from Kansas University. “I could not do what I do if not for Lindees in my life.”

Wilson said she’s not surprised Cardinal is being recognized for her work.

“Jennifer is the type of student that any professor is delighted to have in the classroom,” Wilson said. “Most important, Jennifer has the ability to be present for her clients. She listens with her heart, while also being pragmatic and creative in her problem-solving.”

Prior to working at Sweet Life at Brookdale Place, Cardinal worked at Truman Medical Center-Lakewood in its long-term care facility. She also volunteers for Crossroads.

“I find being a social worker very rewarding,” she said. “Sometimes, I have to pinch myself.”



About Avila University
Avila University is a private, co-educational, values-based liberal arts institution founded by the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet, offering undergraduate, graduate, and adult degree programs. Avila University is located at 119th and Wornall Rd in southwest suburban Kansas City, Mo.