During the annual Values Week from Nov. 8-14, Augusta University celebrates its six core values: collegiality, compassion, excellence, inclusivity, integrity and leadership.
Jenna Viera, a 22-year-old senior in Augusta University’s Bachelor of Social Work program, is full of compassion and kindness both inside and outside of the classroom.
“I’ve always just liked helping people,” Viera said, smiling. “Helping others makes me happy. It’s something that I’ve always wanted to do.”
As one of Augusta University’s core values, compassion is reflected in caring, empathy and social responsibility.
Viera, a native of Evans, Georgia, originally considered majoring in art, but she changed her mind at the last minute and became a chemistry major at Augusta University.
“I enjoyed science, but I soon realized I just didn’t want to do it for the rest of my life as a career,” Viera said. “I happened to take a social work class my second year here and I absolutely loved it. Social work is what makes me feel fulfilled, so I decided to change my major from chemistry to social work.”
Many of her friends and classmates were surprised she decided to change her major, Viera said.
“A lot of people gave me a hard time for changing my major from chemistry because I went from wanting to do pharmacy to social work,” Viera said. “They told me, ‘Well, you’re not going to make as much money.’ And I was like, ‘I don’t care. If I die, I can’t take the money with me.’”
Viera, who will graduate this May from Pamplin College of Arts, Humanities, and Social Sciences, is currently an intern at Hope House, a nonprofit in Augusta. Since 1992, Hope House has helped more than 1,700 women in Georgia with substance use and mental health challenges.
Hope House strives to instill self-sufficiency in individuals and families through comprehensive treatment to end the cycle of substance misuse, untreated mental illness and poverty, Viera said. It also works to empower individuals through prevention education, clinical treatment and recovery support to create sustainable change.
“One thing I really like about Hope House is a lot of the people who work there are former addicts themselves, and I think that gives them a different connection with the clients there because they’ve experienced similar things. Many of the staff members can say, ‘You can do it. I’ve done it,’” Viera said. “I think it’s inspiring to the clients. They’re like, ‘I can actually do this.’”
After graduation, Viera hopes to get a job as a social worker dealing with child welfare, addiction recovery or mental health.
“With child welfare, I have a lot of empathy for those in that situation. I also was a witness to domestic violence for a few years, so I’ve seen it firsthand,” she said.
“I’m interested in mental health because that is something that I struggle with, as well as other people in my family. And addiction recovery is something else I’m passionate about, because people in my family have also struggled with that. Those are the three areas that I’m very passionate about.”
Viera said she was honored to be nominated to represent compassion for Values Week by Morgan Fields, interim director of the Bachelor of Social Work program at Augusta University.
“I really appreciate that Morgan feels that I represent compassion,” Viera said. “It’s encouraging because that’s definitely what every social work major tries to represent, because we’re all for advocacy, and having empathy for others, and advocating for those who can’t advocate for themselves.”
One of the ways Viera remains so positive and filled with compassion is she has learned the importance of self-care, she said.
“I make sure that I make time for myself, because that’s one of the biggest things that they first teach you,” Viera said. “You have to make sure that you are good mentally and emotionally, because you can’t pour from an empty cup. Take care of yourself so you can take care of others.”