University of Vermont

University Communications

Social Work Senior Brings Warmth to Burlington

hats on Church Street
Senior Ceili Quigley organized hundreds of donations -- distributed via "yarn bombs" around Burlington -- to those in need this winter. (Photo courtesy of Quigley)

When given the assignment to participate in a community event for her Social Work Practice class, senior Ceili Quigley declined. Instead, she started one.

Quigley brought an initiative that’s gained momentum in communities across the country here to Burlington. The project, Chase the Chill, makes scarves, hats and mittens available to those in need through community action.

Social media helped Quigley raise awareness of the cause. Her Facebook page, Twitter account and website, as well as local news coverage, contributed to hundreds of donations, distributed this winter in locations around Burlington. While some donations came from as far away as California, many were created right here in Vermont, thanks to “knit-ins” Quigley organized. Burlington restaurant Skinny Pancake got word of the effort and offered to host those who showed up to knit for the cause. Area shops contributed much of the yarn.

Knitting, Quigley says, is a way to keep her hands active while her mind is busy — an important quality in a hobby for the psychology and social work double major, who’s also raising two young children. In May, days after graduating, she’ll begin the UVM Master of Social Work program.

Kelly Melekis, Quigley’s professor, says the goal of the assignment is to get students out into the community.

“From the beginning of my social work education here, there’s really been an emphasis on being part of the community,” Quigley says.

As part of the social work degree, students complete field placements, putting in 15-20 hours a week with local organizations, 450 hours for the year. This semester’s group is working with organizations like Burton’s Chill Foundation, WomenSafe, Alzheimer’s Association of Vermont, and the Committee of Temporary Shelter. Melekis’ class uses those field experiences to help students make sense of the concepts she’s teaching.

“They’re applying the course concepts and the course materials to their field placement and bringing it back and sharing with the class,” she says. That happened with Quigley’s Chase the Chill work too, an initiative she hopes will continue in the years to come.

“There’s a collaborative element to it,” Melekis says of how her students educate each other about the experiences they’re having. “They’re no longer just classmates, they’re colleagues.”

Quigley's placement is at the Central Vermont Council on Aging, which dovetails with yet another project she's taken on this semester: helping Melekis and social work professor Fiona Patterson organize a conference, “New Directions in Aging and Disabilities,” which will educate area care providers about participant-directed longterm care. The conference, to be held Wednesday, April 15 at UVM’s Davis Center, will explore what’s happening nationally with the participant-directed model as well as provide information about what’s happening here in Vermont.

It’s been another hands-on experience for Quigley as she completes her senior year.

“Ceili’s work on Chase the Chill and with organizing the conference are really helpful on the resume,” Melekis says. “They were helpful when she applied to the MSW program, and they’ll be helpful when she goes on to jobs.”