Her job can take her into some tough neighborhoods.
Wright State alumna Teri Dwillis, a stay-at-home mom who didn’t go to college until she was 40, now works for Catholic Social Services of the Miami Valley and often visits the homes of young impoverished mothers and mothers-to-be who survive on the economic fringe.
“I have met some of the most amazing women,” said Dwillis. “They’ve come through some things that I couldn’t imagine going through. But it just inspires me to help them more. Our focus is breaking some cycles, breaking the poverty cycle.”
Dwillis, 51, is program manager of ParentLink, a home-based program that provides education and support to help pregnant and parenting young people gain confidence.
“Some of these girls have never ever had someone stand up for them. They’ve never had someone even care,” said Dwillis. “It’s amazing what a little bit of encouragement will do. It’s amazing what you can do when you start watering these plants. They start to bloom.”
Dwillis currently has more than 30 clients, ranging in age from eighth grade to 33. Five of them have gone on to get married, several have decided to go to college, and one is finishing her certificate to be a medical assistant.
So there have been successes for Dwillis. But getting there can be tricky. Some of her clients face the added challenge of living in neighborhoods that are plagued by poverty and crime.
Dwillis grew up in Dayton. Her mother worked for the Industrial Commission of Ohio, which serves injured workers by resolving workers’ compensation claims. After graduating from Wilbur Wright High School, Dwillis got married and began raising a family.
In 2001, she started home-schooling her children and then created a school at her church. There were 11 students the first year. The following year the school had tripled in size.
“I really especially liked the troubled kids,” she said. “The kids that didn’t do well in school always did well in our school. I give a lot of encouragement, a lot of mentoring. So I had a passion for that.”
In 2005, Dwillis decided she needed more education to work at the school, so she enrolled at Sinclair Community College and earned her associate degree in psychology.
Then it was on to Wright State. Her plan was to become a schoolteacher.
But she discovered and fell in love with the Rehabilitation Services program, which focuses on at-risk young people. She did an internship at Catholic Social Services and in 2014 graduated with a 4.0 GPA and a bachelor’s degree in rehabilitation services.
She was immediately hired.
The agency’s ParentLink program teaches nurturing-parenting skills and in part focuses on preventing child abuse. Dwillis is skilled at getting her clients to open up about themselves and helps them meet challenges by building up their confidence and self-esteem.
“I show a lot of respect for what the person is going through. And I use humor,” she said. “It’s just very, very rewarding. I’ve got a passion for it.”