Melissa Bowermaster was a volunteer at her local child advocacy center but always wanted to do more. She got her bachelor’s in human services from Kaplan University. Now she’s the executive director of Jessie’s Place, a child advocacy center in Citrus county, Florida and helps her community in meaningful ways every day.
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Melissa Bowermaster has always had strong ties to her community. Her father was in law enforcement, and she began working at the Citrus county sheriff’s office as a victim’s advocate in 2004. As a victim’s advocate, it became apparent to her and others that there was a special need for children’s advocacy. In a community meeting in April 2005, the idea for Jessie’s Place was born, a grassroots effort from the community to provide services to children who are affected by abuse or neglect. Bowermaster became one of the many volunteers at Jessie’s Place, which was named in honor of a young girl from the community who was tragically murdered. Bowermaster says she truly believes that “if we help our kids, we help ourselves.” She liked what she did because “working in human services gives you an opportunity to give back; it gives you an opportunity to help people.” But it was time to do more. Bowermaster knew that “in order to run a credible center and be a respected business decision maker… having a degree in human services was crucial.”
When she began looking at continuing her education, Bowermaster worked full time at the sheriff’s office and had two children still living at home. She liked Kaplan University’s human services degree program because it gave her the flexibility she needed to go back to school while still supporting her family. When asked about her decision, she says, “I chose Kaplan for several reasons but probably the most important was the fact that they were the most generous with my transfer credits.” With all of her experience working and volunteering, she was able to take Kaplan’s portfolio development class and earn college credit for her previous work experiences. Bowermaster graduated with a bachelor’s in human services in just 18 months and was ready to take charge of Jessie’s Place.
With a BS in human services and a concentration in child welfare and family, Bowermaster was able to move from a volunteer at Jessie’s Place to the executive director position. She says of her degree in human services that “with my degree and becoming the executive director, I now have therapists that work for me. I not only manage our therapists but we balance that with the business side of it.” She is responsible for fundraising in order to keep the doors open. Co-located agencies like the sheriff’s office and the University of Florida child protection team work directly with her in child advocacy matters. She says that on average, they have 30 to 35 children benefiting from their therapy programs in a month. Bowermaster also assists the children in court hearings: “I’ll attend court with a child, often times I’ll be on the witness stand. We may have children who are very young who are up on the stand and they’re nervous so I can be there to help them feel more comfortable.”
Bowermaster is still working to improve Jessie’s Place every day. They are currently adding a building, and the new facility will allow them to have two more therapy rooms. She says of the experience, “I am part of the social network of good, and I’m very proud of the positive change that we’re bringing about.”
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