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MSW Alum Theresa Schafer Develops Passion for Helping Others During Time at Saint Louis University


Theresa Schafer (MSW ‘21) developed a passion for helping others during her undergraduate years at Saint Louis University.

After receiving her degree in theology and philosophy from SLU and completing a year of service as a high-school teacher in Chicago, she noticed that many of her students had barriers to education and learning. 

Theresa Schafer
Theresa Schafer (MSW '21)

For Schafer, this signaled a need for a shift in career focus. She returned to SLU, enrolled in the Master of Social Work (MSW) program and successfully completed her degree this spring.

Schafer, recipient of an 1818 Community Grant for her project "Sustainable Suds," partnered with Healing Action Network Inc. and School of Social Work Assistant Professor Vithya Murugan, Ph.D., M.S.W., to expand the access of laundry services to Healing Action members.

“I’m grateful to SLU for giving me the opportunity to both create this program at Healing Action and also learn about the process of what it means to apply for a grant, develop it, and have partnerships in the community,” Schafer said.

“The 1818 program is a really good way for students to learn those things, because I’ve learned so much not only about laundry and access in St. Louis, but also about the process of writing grants and how that changes over time.”

During the COVID-19 pandemic, Schafer noticed that many more members were coming to the center to do their laundry. Not only was it important to be sanitary during the pandemic, but it was also an outlet for the members to take a break from their daily lives. 

Healing Action, an organization in St. Louis that serves survivors of commercial sexual exploitation that offers peer support, trauma therapy, and comprehensive service management, needed to find a way to keep all of their members and staff safe, while also meeting everyone’s needs. 

During her laundry access expansion project, ten laundry carts were distributed to Healing Action Members for expanded laundry accessibility and mobility, 480 loads of detergent were provided, or stocked for the future, and 14 staff members were trained on how to implement Sustainable Suds.

“The hope is to continue to make it sustainable and so members are able to do their laundry in spaces that are most convenient for them, whether that means the office or a laundromat that is closer to their home,” Schafer said.

Schafer’s work included ensuring that the members have secure identification and housing, that their basic needs are met, and that they are meeting their vocational or educational goals.

The 1818 grants allow students and faculty to partner with local non-profit organizations to make a positive impact on the community.

Not only did this grant provide necessary services to many members of the St. Louis community, but it also taught Schafer how to write grants, how community’s needs change over time, and how nonprofits rely on discretionary funds that can be spent on the smaller needs of their members.

College for Public Health and Social Justice

The Saint Louis University College for Public Health and Social Justice is the only academic unit of its kind, studying social, environmental and physical influences that together determine the health and well-being of people and communities. It also is the only accredited school or college of public health among nearly 250 Catholic institutions of higher education in the United States.

Guided by a mission of social justice and focus on finding innovative and collaborative solutions for complex health problems, the College offers nationally recognized programs in public health, social work, health administration, applied behavior analysis, and criminology and criminal justice.