By Patti Samar
When April Gardner was 22 years old, she graduated from college with a degree in English literature and promptly began a promising career as a copywriter.
But after hustling her way through several very good corporate jobs in Chicago and Boston, Gardner, a Michigan native, felt there was something missing in her life.
“I was in a corporate, go-sit-in-a-cubicle job and I felt like I wasn’t doing anything to help people,” she said.
So, at 30 years of age, she packed up her life in Boston, headed back to Chicago, and went to graduate school, where she obtained a master of social work degree.
Gardner used her social work degree in the Chicago area for a period of time, helping people of all ages, when she realized it was time to shift gears again: she joined the Peace Corps.
“I served in Kosovo, and I was working with kids in a primary school,” she said. “My primary role was as an educator, but I was leading writing workshops, I volunteered at an orphanage, I organized a national poetry competition, and we wrote a grant that helped obtain sports equipment for the students.”
The Republic of Kosovo, located in southeastern Europe, was politically unstable throughout much of the 20th century, culminating in particularly violent outbreaks of war in the late 1990s. In 2008, the nation declared its independence and the country has spent the past decade rebuilding.
For Gardner, joining the Peace Corps was an opportunity to experience both personal and professional growth.
“I didn’t see it as a break from my career so much as building on my career,” she said. “I joined the Peace Corps because I felt like I could be doing more to be helping people.”
Upon her return to the United States last year, she returned to Michigan, where her family still resides, and she joined the staff at Blue Water Counseling of Fort Gratiot as a licensed clinical social worker.
“I think in some ways, I’m still adjusting to American life again, so my primary focus has been on my job,” she said.
Gardner noted that one of the joys of her work at BWC is in building long-term relationships with her clients.
“I’m able to develop relationships with people over the long term,” she said. “That is gratifying because you see more change. It’s exciting watching somebody go through a positive change. There’s a spiritual component to watching people connecting with themselves and others through more healthy channels.”
Gardner said the majority of the clients she sees at BWC are dealing with some kind of anxiety or depression.
“A lot of anxiety and depression comes from people not taking care of themselves,” she said. “They are doing more for other people in their lives than they are taking care of themselves. I am able to help them understand that it is okay to take care of themselves.
“I enjoy working with people of all ages, but with teens, they sometimes feel pressure to be a certain way, and trying to manage things from what they want versus what their parents want.
“Adults tend to put their spouse’s needs or their partner’s needs ahead of their own.
“With all of this, it’s all about coming back to yourself,” she said. “Watching clients come out of that and coming to a better place in life, well, that is the most gratifying part of social work.
“Therapy is a coping tool to help you get unstuck,” she said. “I see myself as a support to helping someone solve their own problems.”