Kayla David: From Intern to Vice President

In 2014, Kayla David was still studying for her master’s at Antioch University in Keene, New Hampshire when she heard about something called the GO Team– an innovative police partnership nearly 100 miles away, put in place by an agency she’d never heard of before, Family Service of Rhode Island (FSRI).

Intrigued by this unique model in social services, she reached out to former Vice President Susan Erstling and applied to an unpaid internship at FSRI doing direct response with police. She hoped to bring back what she learned to her master’s studies– and the rest is history!

Now, after eight years of learning, growing, and mentorship through various roles at FSRI, she’s been promoted to Vice President of the Home Division.

“The scope of programs (at FSRI) really allowed me to grow,” Kayla said.

Realizing early in her internship that she may not be cut out for the intensity of the GO Team, Kayla shifted gears and was hired on full-time at FSRI in 2015 doing general outpatient work with children and adults dealing with trauma.

“I realized I didn’t love doing direct response with police,” she said. “It wasn’t something that used my skills. But I was fortunate enough to go on to have a lot of hands-on experience in a variety of other roles. That’s not something you find at all organizations.”

Promoted from clinician to clinical trainer and then clinical director, the varying roles helped her hone in on her personal strengths.

“I oversaw the trauma training institute here at FSRI, which allowed us to partner externally to develop a really trauma-informed community here in Rhode Island,” she said. “I’ve been given so many opportunities here where I wasn’t stifled. That’s one of the most beautiful things about FSRI.”

Kayla found her sweet spot at FSRI in addressing equity in access to services for those who she saw were easily falling through the cracks. One Spanish-speaking mother she worked with had been unsuccessfully trying to navigate it alone for four years on behalf of her child. But without Spanish-speaking staff at her child’s school, she couldn’t get IEP testing or supports put in place. With Kayla’s help, she was able to finally make it happen.

“It was really eye-opening to see that the systems were not designed to give her access to them,” Kayla said. “That skill of understanding systems and the knowledge that the systems are not designed equally was an experience I’ll always remember, and take with me as we build programs moving forward.”

Kayla’s advice to young social workers is simple.

“Go where your passion is. Take your time in school to figure out what that is, and know that it will change over time,” she said. “It’s ok to absolutely hate what you think you’re going to love.”

In her spare time, Kayla says she enjoys spending time with her two dogs, two cats, and caring for over 100 houseplants.

“I love staying busy. My partner will tell you I’ve never relaxed once in my life,” Kayla joked.

In addition to her new role at FSRI, she and her partner are looking forward to spending the foreseeable future renovating an old Victorian house.


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