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From Journalism to Social Work, A Search for Connection


As a journalist, Madelynn Schulte, GSS ’21, didn’t find the connection she wanted.

She’d planned it all out in undergrad. Schulte wanted a profession where no two days were the same, and your job was to engage with others. And what’s at the heart of a good story? Relationships. How else could you facilitate a good interview, and get the quotes that make the front page? What better way to investigate the core issues than hearing it from the source? 

There was one problem: a journalist’s assignment is, first and foremost, to report the story. Then you go home. At the end of the day, even the longest profile pieces are only a snapshot in time; once the article goes to press, your job is done. Schulte wanted something more. 

She came to New York City for a role in Public Relations after graduating, but the job merely confirmed what she already knew: this career path wasn’t for her. She’d come this far and knew her passions lay in helping others and forming bonds. But how could she pivot out of PR? 

Luckily, Schulte was volunteering at Domus Foundation Inc. when a colleague asked her, what about social work? 

“I think she just graduated from Fordham, and she said, You know they have a Westchester campus, and I was like, I can do that,” she said. “And honestly, Fordham was the only place I applied.

“[I thought] Social work would lead me to a position where I could be in service to others,” Schulte said. “I didn’t know there were such different ways to practice social work. I was open to being on the administrative side of things or working clinically with individuals. I wanted to explore all possible routes.”

An Unexpected Passion

Schulte enrolled as a full-time Master of Social Work (M.S.W.) student at Fordham’s Westchester campus in 2019. Although she had no prior experience working with the special needs population, when Fordham’s field team asked her if she felt comfortable working at Abilis—a 501(c)3 non-profit organization that provides services and supports for over 800 individuals with special needs and their families from birth through the life span—she accepted. It ended up being the perfect fit, introducing Schulte to a population who changed her life just as much as she helped them change theirs. 

“There’s such a genuineness about the individuals that I work with,” Schulte said about her clients at Abilis. “They’re so loving, caring, and kind.”

Schulte enjoyed her experience at Abilis so much that she returned the next year for her Specialist year field placement. By this time, she’d gotten to know the Abilis staff so well—including Abilis CEO and GSS M.S.W. graduate Amy Montimurro, GSS ‘08—that Schulte was in talks of a permanent position after graduation. 

“I became a case manager for our LEAP program [after graduation],” Schulte said. “Abilis provides a loving community environment that I don’t think you get anywhere else…it’s very rare to come across.”

And this was just the beginning. 

The SEARCH for the Perfect Role

Now, in her fourth year with Abilis, Schulte is the Program Manager for Abilis’s Project SEARCH program. Project SEARCH aims to help young individuals with special needs find meaningful employment in their communities. Individuals are immersed in three, 9-month internships to explore a variety of career paths, while also learning marketable career skills in a classroom setting led by Abilis instructors. 

In her role, Schulte oversees the team of instructors who facilitate these classroom meetings, providing support for the instructors and Abilis’s interns. She also meets with the families of individuals enrolled in Project SEARCH and acts as a liaison with the Department of Developmental Services. 

Schulte spoke about accompanying one of the Project SEARCH students to a job interview and eventual training when they received an offer for the position. She spent time with the managers at the organization, describing Project SEARCH and Abilis’s mission. 

“I spoke with [the]trainers who were there, and gradually shared who we are and what our mission is,” she said. “We want our individuals to be treated just like everyone else, but in the same sense…this person has a disability…it’s a fine line that needs to be treated with grace. For example, if an individual exhibits ‘stimming’ behaviors that they can’t control, an employer needs to accept that, that might not be changing. What we can help change is timeliness, organization, proper communication, et cetera.” 

Schulte believes in Project SEARCH’s ability to give these individuals a fair chance. She thinks work is an important part of someone’s life, and the individuals at Project SEARCH shouldn’t be denied the opportunity. 

“Work is dignity,” she said. “It doesn’t matter if you’re working at the front desk of a gym, at a retail store, or at a restaurant — earning money is dignity, and having somewhere to go where you’re valued. You’re part of the team.”

A Future of Fortitude

When Schulte thinks of a characteristic all social workers should have, “fortitude” comes to mind. 

“You need to be mentally strong for yourself so that you can be mentally strong for others,” she said. “If you’re mentally crumbling, it’s not going to work. Build that mental toughness, and it doesn’t mean you’re insensitive. It doesn’t mean that you don’t care. It means that you care about yourself first. It’s what you deserve.”

Schulte sees a future for herself at Abilis. Her supervisor has been with the company for 15 years, and Montimurro has been at Abilis for 25 years. Schulte says Montimurro—who has led Abilis’ residential growth from 12 homes to 48—is a wealth of knowledge and inspiration for her future. 

“It’s amazing to see another woman be a CEO. It’s something I really value,” Schulte said. “I look up to [Montimurro] for that, and knowing she has the same degree as me.”

Looking further ahead, Schulte said she even sees herself integrating her journalistic and social work skills in some way. 

“One of the skills I learned as a journalist and is something that I was told by one of my previous mentors: you have to be curious,” she said, “and ask questions, and I think that I’m still like that. And I think it helps me.”

But for now, Schulte knows she made the right decision by following her true passion. And starting July 1, she will assume an assistant director position at Abilis. 

“I wouldn’t trade it for the world,” she said. 


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