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Together We Are Stronger: Uplifting Others Through Service

Written by Dr. Carrie MacVean Grimes '91 for the Summer 2021 issue of The Bridge
Generations of alumnae have launched their futures from our Water Street campus, exemplifying the values of the Severn School community as artists, leaders, advocates, activists, and more. Since first arriving on campus in the fall of 1971, Severn's women have fostered connections across communities in service to others. In their lives and work, these four incredible alumnae bring to life the words in our mission, "a lasting desire to serve."

Gustava "Gusty" Taler '74

Headshot of Gusty Taler Gustava “Gusty” Taler '74 is the chief operating officer of Maryland Legal Aid, a private nonprofit organization that provides life- changing, civil legal assistance to low- income and marginalized individuals and communities, empowering them to overcome challenges, achieve stability, and independence, and enjoy an overall better life.

In 1997, Gusty founded the Multi- Ethnic Domestic Violence (MEDOVI) Project, the first program in the Baltimore region aimed at serving the legal needs of foreign-born victims of domestic violence. In her previous work at the Women's Law Center of Maryland and the Circuit Court for Baltimore City, Gusty saw firsthand that few foreign-born victims sought legal action against domestic violence.

Through a grant written under the aegis of the Women's Law Center, Gusty established the MEDOVI Project, which continues to this day. For more than 23 years, the project has helped thousands of immigrants and their children with domestic violence and immigration issues. Coming full circle, Gusty continues her relationship with the MEDOVI Project through a Violence Against Women Act grant from the state, given to Maryland Legal Aid to work in partnership with the Women's Law Center.
“I've been all over the map ... I think to some extent that has enriched my career, has enriched my life, and has exposed me to many different perspectives. My work at Maryland Legal Aid has given me the opportunity to use my law degree for the good of the community, and it has also allowed me to help manage and grow a large, multi- faceted, statewide organization.”
In 2015, in response to the civil unrest in Baltimore, Gusty developed the “Lawyer in the Library” program to provide legal services to Baltimore's most vulnerable citizens in the communities in which they live; the first legal clinic was located in a West Baltimore library. Since then, the program has expanded to community centers, schools, places of worship, other nonprofits, and even hospital settings. More than 10,000 people statewide have been served through these legal clinics.
“As a child of immigrants, I grew up understanding the experience of being a stranger in a strange land. While working in the courts, it became apparent that many foreign-born victims needed advocates to walk them through the legal process and help them get to the other side.”

Dr. Cheryl Helman Madden '91

Headshot of Cheryl Helman Madden Psychologist Dr. Cheryl Helman Madden '91 always felt a calling to help others. She dedicated her studies to making that calling a career, pursuing a double major at Washington University in psychology and women's studies, a doctoral degree at Widener University, and ultimately licensure as a clinical psychologist and school psychologist in Pennsylvania. Early on, she worked at Green Tree School in Philadelphia, a school that provides education, therapeutic and clinical support to children with autism spectrum disorder and severe emotional disability. Their philosophy is rooted in the belief that every child should have the opportunity to learn the academic, social, emotional, and vocational, and life skills they need to achieve resiliency and succeed in their learning, living and working environments. Her subsequent years of private practice were rewarding and enabled her to provide individual, family, and group psychotherapy for clients aged six through adults.
“My treatment approach is strengths-based and collaborative. I see the therapist's role as helping the clients to draw on their strengths to overcome challenges.”
She also served as a consulting psychologist for Delaware County's Head Start program, which provides comprehensive services for low-income children from birth to entry into kindergarten. The program is child-centered, family-focused, comprehensive, and community-based. Head Start services are designed to address developmental goals for children, employment and self-sufficiency goals for adults, and support for parents in their work and child-caring roles.

In 2012, Dr. Madden shifted her work to focus on supporting the mental health and wellness of the veteran community as a psychologist for the Veterans Health Administration. The VHA is America's largest integrated health care system for veterans with services for post-traumatic stress disorder, psychological effects of military sexual trauma, depression, grief, anxiety, and other needs. Over her nine years with the VHA, Cheryl's work has incorporated a variety of responsibilities including patient intake evaluations and referrals for treatment and helping veterans and their families secure compensation and pension benefits. While rewarding, this work is also challenging. Many of the veterans she serves are in crisis situations and are initially “resistant to treatment before meeting with us ... so it's a unique opportunity to create a positive experience with a mental health provider to those who may be resistant beforehand.”

Dominique Thompson Mann '09

Headshot of Dominique Thompson Mann Dominique Thompson Mann '09 is currently a licensed clinical social worker in the state of Maryland, but she has been committed to serving those in need for over a decade. After graduating from High Point University with a major in psychology and a minor in human relations, Dominique moved to Arizona to work as a child protective services specialist for the Arizona Department of Child Safety where she supported the most vulnerable young people in the state. Mann ensured and assessed child safety and well-being, oversaw case plans to reunify families, represented her department as the legal guardian for children in need, and connected families with services and resources to enhance safe environments for their children. This transformational boots-on-the-ground experience inspired her to seek her master's degree in social work at the University of Maryland.
“I've always wanted to do social work or psychology ... I realized social work is very versatile and I feel like social work is a great way for me to put my talents to use in different ways.”
Later in her career as a clinical social worker for The National Center for Children and Families, Dominique provided crisis support and early intervention techniques for youth and families, especially those with acute mental health needs or past trauma. Her professional training as a yoga instructor was instrumental in empowering her clients to increase mindfulness and alleviate anxiety in their lives. And in her work now as a child intervention behavior therapist with school children in the state of Maryland, Dominique strives to support children to become fully integrated into the school system, to succeed and flourish. When she talks about helping families and children, Dominique's eyes twinkle. “Seeing the improvement in a child and being able to help those families is just amazing to me.” She also takes great pride in having created a nonprofit with colleagues called Never Too Young, which is geared toward teaching underserved young people life skills through seminars and programs designed to empower and inspire them.
"No matter what appears on the surface, everyone has a story that should be appreciated, processed, and shared. I want people to understand that they're not alone and that they are worthy."

Josie Cipriano '09

Photo of Josie Cipriano in the field. When reflecting upon her time at Severn, Josie Cipriano '09 recalls being passionate about humanitarian issues. “I was the biggest nerd in Mr. Buckley's Global Studies class, and even chose to forego AP European History to take more global studies courses my senior year. If there was a student-led protest or day of awareness, I was either behind it or participating in it. So being a part of a nonprofit organization isn't really a surprise.”

Salvavision, the organization Josie currently works with, is particularly close to her heart given its powerful mission to provide aid and support to asylum seekers, those being illegally detained at private detention centers, and returnees who have been deported. Salvavision is an organization which “works for those who are not able to speak out and stand up” by providing legal aid, basic hygiene items, food, clothing, shelter and many other resources to these individuals. Salvavision also provides access to programs for economic and community support for those who have been deported to their home country.
“Organizations like Salvavision are necessary. Even so people are suffering, being treated inhumanely, and are left to die as they try to protect themselves and their families. I work with Salvavision because I can't imagine not working with them. Anyone who has a child, parents, friends, people they love should care about this work.”
Josie and her partner, poet and activist Javier Zamora, were called to this work in part due to Javier's personal experience immigrating to the U.S. by crossing the Sonoran Desert unaccompanied at age nine from El Salvador. Javier has achieved national acclaim for his poetry collections which retrace this harrowing journey. Salvavision was founded by Dora Rodriguez who immigrated to the U.S. from El Salvador in the 1980's though the Sonoran Desert at age 18. She became a social worker and has dedicated her life to helping others who are forced to risk their lives crossing the Mexico–United States border.

Together, Josie and Javier helped launch Salvavision's new resource center in Sasabe, Mexico in May. While enthusiastic about the progress this represents, Josie is passionate in her assertion that a commitment to serving those in need is everyone's responsibility.

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    • Graphic with photos of Gusty Taler, Cheryl Helman Madden, Dominique Thompson Mann, and Josie Cipriano

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