Donna Bristol-Goeben has spent 25 years helping others as an occupational therapy assistant.
Now Bristol-Goeben is studying social work through the adult learning program at the University of St. Joseph and interning right in her hometown. But she doesn't exactly consider it starting over.
“I think social work was a natural progression,” she said. “I can continue to care for others without the physicality of it all.
Bristol-Goeben began studying at the University of St. Joseph in January of 2011 and expects to finish in 2015.
Since September she has interned at the Canton Department of Senior and Social Services under the guidance of director Claire Cote.
“I am so happy that Donna chose to look into our Department as an Internship opportunity in this initial part of her social work career,” Cote said. “Donna brings both enthusiasm and compassion to her work here and I think this not only comes naturally, but because of her love for working with people and her knowledge of Canton.”
The Senior and Social Services Department has worked with interns since August of 2011 when CCSU reached out to Cote. In all six have worked with the program, with another coming in May.
In addition to learning how the town assists people in a myriad of challenging situations, interns have launched senior safety
programs, signed up families for energy assistance, provided home visits,
worked with local health-care facilities and much more.
Cote estimates that they provide services that would otherwise cost the town approximately $22,000 a
Of course they in turn get the professional experience and the help can be invaluable to recipients.
In addition to other projects, Bristol-Goeben coordinated this year’s Holiday Giving Program, for which various town
organizations and the department supported 27 families who otherwise would not
have had much of a holiday.
“It’s been a really great experience so far,” Bristol-Goeben said. “I’m looking forward to what I’m going to be learning.”
She’s also enjoyed working with the seniors who come to the
center for various programs and meals. That's allowed her to see people that are often physically stronger than her patients.
“It’s a nice change of pace,” she said.
As a life-long Canton resident with more life and work experience than other inters, Bristol-Goeben has also offered Cote a unique perspective.
“I have found it both challenging and rewarding and the
entire experience has illustrated even more to me how important it is to
understand the culture of the people with whom and the community within which
you work,” Cote said.
Bristol-Goeben’s path was largely set in motion during her
five years on Canton's ambulance crews.
“Being an EMT led me into the field of medicine,” she said.
Of course it also changed her life in another significant way. While
serving she met her husband of nearly 24 years — Wayne Goeben, who is still a
captain for the town of Canton Volunteer Fire and EMS Department.
The couple has two sons, Keith and Eric. With one in College
and the other well into the teen years, Bristol-Goeben decided it was time to make the leap to social work.
Still with volunteer service, full-time jobs, normal
family commitments and more, it’s not always easy.
“It’s all possible,” she said. “Just don’t plan on sleeping
Sometimes the little stuff slides.
“It means a lot of flexibility,” she said. “Sometimes the
dishes stay dirtier a little longer but it all eventually gets done.”
As she pursues her new path, Bristol-Goeben’s ultimate goal
is to work with families that face one of life’s toughest challenges — hospice care.
But in those situations are reminders of what’s important in life
and families and friends often forget those old feuds, regrets and hard
“There’s something very redeeming about those final days and
hours,” Bristol-Goeben said.