Staples, Minn.,
17:59 PM

Internship Turns a Life Around

One woman's incredible journey to a new career...and life

I wouldn’t be where I am today without NJPA and the internship opportunity. Never in my life did I think I’d get an internship that would lead to a job providing such a wonderful opportunity, especially for a nontraditional student with such limited means.
Nicole Rubbelke, intern turned full-time employee for Wadena County Human Services
One woman’s incredible journey to a new career...and life

By Jenny Holmes

For over 10 years, Nicole Rubbelke was trapped in a relationship ridden with domestic abuse. The idea of leaving was complicated by substance abuse in the home and the fact the couple had three children together.

Sitting behind her desk at Wadena County Human Services, Rubbelke now looks back on those experiences and hardly recognizes the person she was before: going from someone who desperately needed social service intervention to becoming someone who provides those services. You could say hers is a success story.

“At the time, I didn't really understand when they [Crow Wing County officials] said it was one of the worst relationships they'd seen in years. And now, when I look back, I can see it,” Rubbelke said.

But rising from the bottom and building a better life for herself and her children didn't come without hard work, perseverance, and opportunity.

After getting out of the relationship, getting help, and rebuilding her family, Rubbelke decided to return to school to support herself and her children. However, with loans in default, financial aid wasn't an option. After researching grant and scholarship opportunities, she applied for one offered to women returning to school after getting out of an abusive relationship. She was chosen for the grant that helped pay for her first semester at Central Lakes College.

In 2014, she graduated with an Associate of Arts degree from Central Lakes College and in 2016 with a Bachelor's Degree from St. Scholastica at the CLC campus. During that time, she also set her sights on working in the social and human services field.

While completing her Bachelor's Degree, Rubbelke earned an internship opportunity through Wadena County Human Services - a position subsidized by National Joint Powers Alliance. NJPA facilitates internships for local college students in everything from grant writing and public works, to administration and social services. Interns connect on a semester basis and receive $12 an hour for up to 40 hours each week.

“I wouldn't be where I am today without NJPA and the internship opportunity,” Rubbelke said. “Never in my life did I think I’d get an internship that would lead to a job providing such a wonderful opportunity, especially for a nontraditional student with such limited means.”

Tanya Leskey, Wadena County Human Services director, said Wadena County began working in cooperation with St. Scholastica to offer internships in 2015. Rubbelke was one of the first to reach out and interview for an internship slot.

“When we first met, I wasn't aware of her story,” Leskey said. “She had just presented that she needed to complete her senior internship with St. Scholastica's social work program. But as she spent time with our agency, I was able to learn more about her.”

During a nine-month internship, Rubbelke worked in the Child and Family Services Unit assisting with intake forms, referrals, and collaborative agency work. She also went

out in the field, observing social workers at meetings and home visits. And, in September 2016, Rubbelke was offered a full-time position as a county agency social worker in the Behavioral Health Unit.

“She's very passionate about the field of social work,” Leskey said. “When she engages in her decision-making process, she refers to the code of ethics and holds that very near and dear. She promotes self-sufficiency and empowers others. Using critical-thinking skills is incredibly important in this field, and that's very clear in the way she operates.”

Leskey gave kudos to St. Scholastica for the solid education the institution provides its students, as well as to NJPA for its innovation in working with agencies and meeting their diverse needs.

“It's been such a great partnership with NJPA,” she said. “The field of social work is experiencing such a shortage, and we're finding it difficult to recruit for positions. NJPA's internship program has really helped us. Internships are like an extended interview, if you will. It has allowed us to recruit some really phenomenal staff in a really difficult job market.”

For Rubbelke, it not only gave her invaluable experience and, eventually, a career; it also helped her financially when things looked bleak. While she considers hers a success story, Rubbelke acknowledges that her journey has certainly been an arduous one and is sometimes still a struggle for her entire family.

Rubbelke and her children have now moved to Wadena County, where she recently purchased her first home. Her children have also enrolled in new schools and her son, diagnosed with autism, has moved into a mainstream classroom with minimal behavioral issues.

“With the help of the NJPA-subsidized internship, I've been able to transition off county assistance,” Rubbelke said. “For 10 years, I was on everything possible for support. For me, that's an amazing thing to be able to provide everything for my children myself.”

While Rubbelke said the thought of entering the social work field had entered her mind long ago, much of her experience led her to where she is today with hopes of helping someone just like herself get out of an unfortunate situation and make a better life for themselves. 

About NJPA

Sourcewell (formerly National Joint Powers Alliance) is a self-supporting government organization, partnering with education, government, and nonprofits to boost student and community success. Created in 1978 as one of Minnesota's nine service cooperatives, we offer training and shared services to our central-Minnesota members. Throughout North America, we offer a cooperative purchasing program with over 200 awarded vendors on contract. Sourcewell is driven by service and the ability to strategically reinvest in member communities.