Learning to Work for Joy

Learning to Work for Joy

Juliet Onufrak

Costa Rica 2011 | Amazon Explorer, Peru 2013

Juliet is pursuing a Masters of Social Work | Received a BA in Psychology from The Catholic University of America in 2018 | Program facilitator at Little Friends For Peace, a nonprofit in DC

All photos have been provided by Juliet. Read her interview below!

Juliet Onufrak - Rustic Alumni

Juliet Onufrak - Rustic AlumniWhere do you go to school? Are you involved in any volunteer work?

I received my BA in Psychology from The Catholic University of America (in DC) in 2018 and played soccer there as well. This fall I’m starting the MSW at Catholic.

The past three years I’ve worked for a nonprofit in DC called Little Friends For Peace. My job consisted of educating individuals in homeless shelters, Public Schools, and Jails about mindfulness, conflict resolution, and wellness.

I also helped manage the organization’s after school program for DCPS students who received Free or Reduced Lunch. I created a Peace Through Sports program for the after school program, giving the local kids an opportunity to learn how to play sports in a structured setting.

What Rustic trips did you go on? 

Costa Rica 2011, and Peru 2013.

Juliet Onufrak - Rustic Alumni

Did your Rustic experience play a role in bringing you to where you are now? 

I grew up in a small, primarily white community. I wanted to see more of the world and how other people lived. When I went on my Rustic trips I learned a lot about the government and economy in Costa Rica and Peru, and I saw how people in poverty lived and how limited their opportunities were.

Since then I’ve wanted to help educate low income populations, especially kids. I was inspired by my Peru Rustic counselors too, they helped me realize that work should be something that you enjoy and care about, not just a means of making money.

Juliet Onufrak - Rustic AlumniHas travel changed your perspective on how you view the world?

Yes, every time I travel I learn something new. Rustic was only the beginning.

When and why did you decide that you wanted to pursue your Master of Social Work?

After my Rustic trips I knew I wanted to do something meaningful and change the world, but I didn’t know how. I started college undecided and took a bunch of intro classes that interested me.

My psychology 101 class really grabbed me so I decided to major in it. Psychology taught me a lot about how environment and daily behaviors impact how people feel.

I volunteered as a tutor for DCPS students, and then interned with a non-profit that did mindfulness based education programs, and that org ended up offering me a job. I took the job after I graduated and still didn’t know what I wanted to do with my life, I just knew I wanted to make a difference.

I ended up learning a lot about “the system” that many black and newly arrived immigrant families are stuck in. I learned a lot about how mental health is stigmatized in the black community and how many mentally ill people are scared to ask for help. My job was sad, but I also loved giving people ideas and tools to feel better.

We had a few success stories; kids who improved their grades, homeless guys who finally got housing, victims of abuse who finally got out of bed and asked for help, etc. They were small successes, but being the person who inspired the change felt really good! I decided Counseling or Social Work was for me, I applied to both programs and eventually I realized I’m too outgoing to do counseling.

Juliet Onufrak - Rustic Alumni

What do you hope to do with your degree?

Ultimately I want to start and run my own non-profit. For now I want to continue to help people and learn about the best ways to empower and educate individuals in low income and at risk populations, especially kiddos.

Juliet Onufrak - Rustic Alumni

What do you want your life to be like in five years?

Fulfilling and fun! I want to jump out of bed in the morning eager to get to work, and continue to travel and learn about different cultures in my spare time.

Have you encountered any particular challenges that were more easily addressed by your past experiences?

Nothing specific but my Rustic trips gave me a lot of confidence. Afterwards I thought traveling to a country alone where I didn’t know the language was easy, and I knew I could make friends anywhere I went in the world. I still feel like that now!

Juliet Onufrak - Rustic Alumni

Is there a particular moment or memory from any of your trips that stands out for you?

In the Amazon we star-gazed on a boat and I’ll remember that image for the rest of my life. Nowhere else in the world has so many stars visible at night because of pollution.

What is your advice for incoming participants or anyone considering traveling with Rustic Pathways?

Don’t be afraid to do it alone, and be present while you are there.