“Life is an adventure we are meant to be awake for and engaged in.”
Cini Bretzlaff-Holstein, assistant professor of social work, follows her own advice. The Social Worker of the Year award for the Calumet District from the National Association of Social Workers Illinois Chapter (NASW Illinois) reflects the purposeful life she leads.
Every year, the NASW celebrates exceptional social workers who promote social justice and change for the clients they serve. The award goes to an individual who helps improve the social fabric, takes risks, and gains public support for improved human services.
Bretzlaff-Holstein’s award comes after eight active years in various fields of social work including child welfare, residential youth services, community development, and program development. While also teaching courses at Trinity, she has been involved in exploring sustainable food systems and the impact of nutritional food on youth and their communities.
Bretzlaff-Holstein’s interest in sustainable food systems and youth nutrition began with reading about and researching the social impact of the current food system in the United States. After making lifestyle decisions to become a vegan and to support local growers as much as possible, Bretzlaff-Holstein began sharing her passion for a more socially responsible way of feeding America.
Two years ago, Bretzlaff-Holstein and a fellow colleague brought an Interim group to Koinonia Farm in Americus, Georgia. Koinonia practices permaculture growing and is the birth place of Habitat for Humanity. The “demonstration plot for the kingdom of God” inspired Bretzlaff-Holstein to help Trinity become part of the movement that seeks to evaluate and improve stewardship practices.
At Trinity, Bretzlaff-Holstein is part of the Campus Ecological Stewardship Advisory Group (CESAG), which recently supported the development of an aquaponics system in Trinity’s greenhouse. The idea for the system arose from students who attended Bretzlaff-Holstein’s ’13 Interim class called Food Justice.
Several other roles Bretzlaff-Holstein fills at Trinity include serving as faculty advisor to the student-led Social Justice Chapter and the Social Work Student Organization. Both groups seek out volunteer work and complete many projects throughout the year.
This spring, Bretzlaff-Holstein hosted a four part screening of HBO’s “The Weight of the Nation” documentary. Also new this spring was the Troll Fit Club, a weekly group workout session she planned.
“What I try to instill in my students, as was instilled in me, boils down to a well-known quote by Frederick Buechner: ‘The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.’”
Bretzlaff-Holstein’s deep appreciation for locally grown, healthy food, met with Kankakee, Illinois’ deep need for food reform. For the past year she has been a part of the combination community garden and free health clinic that works to improve the health and lives of the people of Kankakee.
The New Life Pentecostal Community Church runs the garden and is committed to growing fruit and vegetables to provide fresh produce to some of the food pantries and soup kitchens that provide food to the hungry in Kankakee. Bretzlaff-Holstein loves the local supply, healthy options, and educational aspects of this community garden.
This fall Bretzlaff-Holstein plans to present her scholarship on the food justice issues at several workshops and conferences including the Christian Community Development Association Conference, the North American Association of Christians in Social Work Convention, and the National Association of Social Workers-Illinois Chapter Conference.
As a professor, Bretzlaff-Holstein hopes to help her students find their place in the world and to realize that their ability to impact the world should be used as undergrads.
“We each have gifts to bring to the table that are meant to be shared no matter how far along they are developed, or what stage in life we find ourselves in,” she said. “Ask questions, think critically, be open minded, participate, make a difference, realize your worth, and believe that even though the vision for your life is not going to be clear cut, dream big and get out there and do what makes your heart come alive.”