20 Questions with Kim Kelly

Jan 26th, 2024

20 Questions with the School of Social Work’s Kim Kelly

After a long and award-winning career at Memorial University, Kim Kelly, RSW, retired from the School of Social Work in early January, 2024. 

As we prepared to bid adieu (or so long for now!), Kim sat down for a 20 questions-themed chat.

1. What is your full name?

Kimberley Ann Kelly

2. Where were you born?

Cape Broyle, on the Southern Shore.

3. What did you want to be when you grew up?

Peter Mansbridge! I wanted to be a news anchor.

4. What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?

When my brother Brendan died by suicide, I took a leave of absence from my social work degree program and I didn’t know if I was going to return.  My mother, who left school after grade eight, but was a very smart, wise woman, encouraged me to go back and finish my social work degree. And I took her advice. I didn’t know that I wanted to, but I did. And she was right and often reminded me: “Now aren’t you glad, I convinced you to go back and do that.” And I am glad.

5. What first brought you to Memorial?

I had a high school teacher who told me that she didn’t think I was university material. So after high school I moved to Ontario, stayed with relatives and I worked at a chicken factory and a taco factory and then at Simpson Sears. But after a year I decided that that wasn’t for me and I decided to apply to Memorial and see what happened.

The minute I came on campus I felt right at home. I loved Memorial right from the start.  I studied Sociology as a major and Women’s Studies (now Gender Studies) as a minor and I loved both of those. Doing my arts degree really opened my eyes to the needs that exist in the community from a sociological and gender perspective, and all the challenges that require advocacy and solutions. I really loved studying in those areas.

6. What was your first job at Memorial?

My very first job at Memorial was canteen manager at Squires House and later I became a resident assistant, 1989 I guess that would’ve been. Then I was hired as the first co-ed proctor of Curtis House. In 1995, I was hired as Memorial’s inaugural Residence Life Officer, which was a 9-5 job, but I also lived on campus and was on-call. I was in that role, and living on campus in that role, from 1995-2004. 

7. How long have you worked at Memorial?

Oh gosh – well my employee number is 89, so I’ve worked here for almost 35 years in some capacity.

8. What role has being a social worker (RSW) played in your career at Memorial? Because I guess your career track has been somewhat unconventional for a social worker.

It has been somewhat unconventional in that you might not think to find social workers in a university setting (outside of the School of Social Work).

When I was working in residence, I felt I needed the skills of the Bachelor of Social Work (BSW) to help me to do my work more effectively. So I knew my social work degree would help me do my job better, but what I didn’t imagine was that my social work degree would give me such a unique lens. For example, because Memorial was dedicated to the people who lost their lives in WWI and WWII, we are a university that is founded on the basis of service. The university mission of service to the people of Newfoundland and Labrador is a great fit with social work, because we have six core values from the Canadian Association of Social Workers (CASW) and one of those is service to humanity. So there is a shared value between the university mission and the social work mission. That lens of service to humanity really allowed me to envision how I could, in my various roles, foster opportunities for students to serve their greater community. So when I was facilitating opportunities for people in residence, it was about asking how can they serve their community as a means of being part of their community, and also fostering a sense of belonging in that way. So the social work lens really informed how I looked at that and in turn how I intentionally tried to foster opportunities for people to connect to their communities

9. What’s been the most unexpected thing about your time at Memorial?

I think one of the most unexpected things has been the number of people that I’ve met and the relationships that I’ve developed. From working in Residence Life/Student Life to now being in the School of Social Work, I’ve gotten the opportunity to meet and work with a lot of people. I’ve met a lot of exceptional students who are now doing wonderful things in our world and I’ve gotten to be part of that experience. There’s also been so many great people that I’ve worked with, from Facilities Management and Campus Enforcement and Patrol, to staff and faculty and right on up through to the president of the university! I’ve had meetings in the president’s office, and that’s certainly something I never would’ve expected to be part of. And I’m not sure how I’ve influenced all those people, but I know that meeting and working with all those people has influenced me.

10. What about from your time at the School of Social Work specifically?

One of the most unexpected things that happened when I moved to the School of Social Work was that I got an opportunity to contribute to social work education, and I never would’ve imagined that I would be able to contribute in that way. My job title is BSW student services coordinator, so my role is to coordinate services for students, but the role is so much more than that. For example, I’ve made academic policy recommendations in the social work section of the university calendar. Just recently we’ve looked at how we could remove some barriers for transfer students, for international students or students from other provinces. Each year, I also review every course in the calendar from HSS and the Faculty of Science to look at how each course might fit as a complementary study for social work. So I get to make recommendations for what courses social work students do, recommend changes that relate to BSW admissions and promotion and in doing so, I have been an important social work voice making sure that the professional social work lens is represented and embedded into the academic policy for the program. And that’s something I never would’ve imagined.

That’s a highlight for me as a social worker, to contribute to social work education. I’m not teaching students, but I provide academic advice, recommendations and resources to help them successfully navigate academic challenges. And I’ve presented and facilitated lectures in BSW classes. For example, I’ve done lectures on suicide loss and facilitated reflective activities to help students reflect on their learning.

You know I’m leaving this year with some new calendar changes that I hope will reduce barriers for BSW applicants and allow more flexibility for BSW students to complete complementary studies courses. There are so many demands on students – between work, family, life in general – so you know it’s important to ask, how can we as a program meet the needs of the students while also not reducing the academic integrity of the social work program? How do you balance that? I’ve felt that having the social work lens has really allowed me to contribute positively to the school and I feel I’m leaving the school after having made a positive impact.

11. Can you talk about a defining moment in your career?

When I moved to the School of Social Work in 2011, Mary Beth Hutchins encouraged me to join the NLCSW Promotion of the Profession Committee. I’d had my social work degree for nine years at this point, working in different areas of the university, but never in the title of social worker and I had never really worked much with other social workers, until I came to the School of Social Work. So that was a really defining moment in my identity as a social worker, because suddenly I was working alongside social workers and social work educators, which gave me a chance to think about the diversity of the social work profession.

Joining the NLCSW Promotion of the Profession Committee was a defining moment because getting to work with fellow social workers and creating opportunities to promote the profession, has really instilled in me a sense of pride in being a social worker that I probably would not have experienced – it kind of blossomed like a flower. So serving on that committee has been a really transformative process in my social work career and even after I retire I will look for ways to give back to the social work profession.

12. Tell us something you’re proud of from your time at Memorial.

I would say I’m very proud of a many things, but one of the things I’m most proud of is that I created a program called Make Midterm Matter, which is still ongoing at the university today. I was doing a master’s program with Denise Hooper, while still working full-time at Memorial, and we were looking at different ways to incorporate knowledge, skill development and service. And I was thinking about students who are from away, especially international students, who didn’t have the opportunity to go home for midterm, what do they do during midterm break? And also, how can we get them more connected with and involved in the community. So as part of master’s project, I developed a program called MUN SERVE, which was later renamed to Make Midterm Matter, but that’s kind of where it was born. So it grew from having maybe 20 students visiting a long-term care facility over one semester, to now that program, according to the website, has created opportunities for thousands of students to contribute to their community and I’m really proud of that.

13. Can you tell me a little bit about how you give back to Memorial?

Well as I mentioned earlier, my brother Brendan died by suicide, and a few years after that loss our family decided to create an award in his name. My husband Mike, my brother Scott, my mom and I worked to raise money for the award. With the help of many colleagues at Memorial who made donations from their paycheques, to family and friends along the Southern Shore who bought mom’s CD, we increased the value of the award from $500 to more than $900, and we are so pleased that it is now endowed. The Brendan Kelly Memorial Award remembers my brother Brendan who died by suicide, to remember what he did in life: he was a Memorial University student who was actively involved in residence life and chaplaincy and who served his community. So that’s something I’m really proud of that will be part of my legacy, but more importantly part of Brendan’s legacy.

The award allows students to have some financial assistance, which is helpful for them, and it allows my family to have a legacy for Brendan, and that’s a really important thing, because everyone should be remembered.

14. What gave you and your family the idea to create the scholarship?

Well, there’s a lady who is a great friend of the School of Social Work, Lorraine Morgan, and she created an award in memory of her mom, Mary Florence (Mugford) Lane, a woman who persevered in life. And when I read about that award and got to meet Lorraine, it inspired me to create an award for Brendan. Because you know, it’s something I hadn’t thought about before, but Lorraine’s trailblazing of creating an award in memory of her mom, made me think, well, why couldn’t I have an award in memory of Brendan? So that’s where that idea came from.

15. What’s your favorite place in the world?

My favorite place in the world is one I haven’t visited yet. But it is somewhere I’m going to go in my retirement – Ireland. I’m going with my girlfriends for three weeks in May, so I’m looking forward to that.

16. What’s your favorite season of the year?

It’s not a season, it’s a day. My favorite day of the year is St. Patrick’s Day. I wear green from March 1-17th.

17. Who’s your favorite musician?

The Ennis Sisters are my absolute favorite. I mean, I love Stevie Nicks too and fellow Social Worker Jackie Sullivan. But I’ve known the Ennis sisters since they were young girls and I believe they are true daughters of Newfoundland and Labrador and true ambassadors for Newfoundland and Labrador.

18. Do you have a favorite book?

My favorite authors are Maeve Binchy and Jane Austin. I can’t choose just one.

19. What physical or personality trait are you most grateful to your parents for?

I’m grateful to them both for different reasons. My dad took me up to our church in Cape Broyle when I was in grade 4 and taught me how to public speak. He said that every young girl should know how to speak in public. There was nobody there, he’d get the key to the church and he’d have me look out and look up, and say, don’t just read off the paper, practice. I feel one of my greatest strengths is my public speaking and I got that from my dad. From my mom I got my socializing skills and knack for writing poems – she and I had that in common – we can make up a poem or song parody in a few minutes. And I guess from both of them my love of singing and dancing – both of them were talented in that way.

20. In addition to travelling to Ireland in the spring (!) what are some of your retirement plans?

I’m a member of the board of directors for the RUAH Counselling Centre and I’m going to remain on the board and do some volunteering with them, maybe  see how we might co- enhance supports for survivors of suicide loss. And I’m a Presentation Associate with the Presentation Sisters and I’m really interested in spirituality-based practice, reflective practice, and so I’ll continue with that into my retirement as well. I recently joined the Basilica choir and love that experience. I am looking forward to new ways to give back to the community and new adventures with family and friends. There will be lots to do, no doubt!