Aaron Cheek, MSW '16
At the age of 36, Aaron Cheek decided to go back to school to become a clinical therapist for low income children and youth. Married and the father of three children ages 8, 7 and 4, Cheek wrestled with whether the sacrifice would be worth it for his family. Besides the significant time commitment, a graduate degree meant financial sacrifices as well. But the scales tipped in his favor when Cheek was awarded the Olivia P Maynard Children and Family Fellowship.
Cheek graduated from U-M Flint with a BSW and spent 8 years working with inmates at the Genesee County Jail. Seeing so many young men facing long incarcerations motivated him to work on the preventative side, where he could make an impact in a young person’s life before they get into trouble.
He now commutes from his home in Genesee County to Ann Arbor for classes twice a week. His field placement is with the Genesee Health System (GHS), where he provides home-based trauma therapy, including trauma-focused CBT and motivational interviewing, to children and their families. Cheek also spends 20 hours a week doing research and emergency room therapy at Hurley Medical Center in Flint, as part of a partnership with the UMHS Injury Center of Ann Arbor.
Opportunities for social workers in Flint and surrounding areas are expanding exponentially with the water crisis unfolding in nearby Flint. Cheek and his coworkers have already begun dealing with the fallout.
My education and the kind of work I want to do is so important to me. I’m committing myself to a life in social work and taking on some of the burdens of society. The Maynard Fellowship represents a lifelong partnership with me that will enable me to fulfill that commitment.
“We’re just now seeing glimpses of how this will affect city residents and continue to do so for decades to come. The future impact is a generational crisis in an area that struggles with high rates of unemployment, poverty, drugs and violent crime. Getting my degree gives me that ability to take an active role addressing this issue and its collateral damage in Genesee County.”
Juggling school and work with a busy home life is challenging, but Cheek says his commitment to doing the best work he can for Genesee County is what keeps him from easing up on his schedule.
“My wife and I knew it would be a tough year, but my heart is in this community. The Maynard Fellowship eliminates so much of the background noise and allows me to focus on what’s most important: my family and my education. I’m grateful for the opportunity to become the most effective agent for change I can be.”