Alumna speaks of helping people

Melissa Weigel

Megan Clancy Castano (’97) returned to her alma mater on Tuesday evening to share with current students what she wished she had known as a student at the University: how to translate her passion for helping make people’s lives better into a fulfilling career. Her presentation, “Doing what matters and getting paid for it,” was the first in an on-going series of lectures about careers in social justice sponsored by the Center for Peace and Justice.

“It’s important for me to be working for an ideal,” Castano said. “If you’re responding to an immediate need, that’s always something. Change will follow; you just have to keep pushing.”

Castano is currently the program manager for Family Promise, which organizes and provides support for 112 Interfaith Hospitality Networks (IHN) around the country. IHN offers shelter, meals and support services such as counseling and classes to homeless families. The families are often housed by members of the congregations of participating churches, synagogues and mosques.

“It’s really geared toward people who just can’t pay their rent, not those who are chronically homeless,” Castano said. “It makes it clear that it could be any of us, especially with our current economy; it’s so easy for people to fall through the cracks.”

She talked about the long and often twisting path that led her to that job. She had originally planned to attend law school, but after working for a law firm following her graduation from the University, she decided that law was not for her.

“When I decided not to go to law school, I was lost,” Castano said. “When you do something for at least a third of your day, you have to love it.”

From there, she received her Master of Arts Degree in Public Communication from American University, after which she worked for the Brookings Institution. She then moved to New Jersey, where she got a temporary job for a New Jersey-based medical school foundation raising money. While looking into volunteering for Family Promise, she was offered a job as an office manager there, which she accepted and has now become the program manager.

“One thing working in Family Promise has taught me is that there is a role for everybody,” Castano said. “There’s a role in every life where you can be giving of your skills. All you need is a commitment to social justice.”

Although everyone may be able to contribute to social justice causes, Castano recognized the fact that it is becoming harder to land a paid job in the field. She attributed this fact to the growing professionalization of the jobs, requiring more education and expertise.

For current students, she emphasized the importance of internships and forming connections within the field.

Dr. Suzanne Toton of the Peace and Justice center helped to organize the careers in social justice series in order to show students that it is possible to make a living doing this kind of work.

“There’s more [students] can do than just volunteer,” she said. “They can get a job, they can put their passions to use, they can be a part of the current of hope. They actually can have a fulfilling profession addressing human needs.”

Senior Julie Terpak said, “I don’t really put much focus on volunteering, but after hearing [Castano] talk, I really want to. I feel a little incomplete.”

Previous speakers include University alumni Andrea Maresca and Sean Closkey.

The next lecture in the series will take place on Nov. 3. Carolyn Davis of the Philadelphia Inquirer will be speaking on journalism and humanitarianism.