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A decorated wall at GiGi's Playhouse

PFW Student Puts the ‘Human’ in Human Services 

By Blake Sebring

July 13, 2023

When most people hear “human services,” they usually guess it has something to do with human resources and deals with job-related policy and details.

But this Purdue University Fort Wayne webpage perfectly describes its Department of Human Services as working to “Restore hope. Encourage others. Improve lives,” and goes on to suggest it “...will give you skills to help people in diverse settings while bettering your community and the lives of others.”

Senior JaNia Guy lives that philosophy by helping others every day and has experienced the healing benefits this type of career can produce.

“We’re quick to say social work,” Guy said. “We’re helping everyone out, and there’s different things we can do, like lead a camp or go get our master’s degree. We are in the helping field, and you are giving people more opportunities.”

Guy wants more people to know exactly what the Department of Human Services is and what it can do to help others.

“I never saw myself in a field like this, but now I can’t see myself doing anything else,” Guy said. “Human services professors have truly made an impact on me.”

Immersing herself in the field, Guy has gained invaluable experience last summer at Parkview Behavioral Health as a mental health technician and this year at Meridian Health Services working case management to help patients build social and life skills and improve their mental health.

Guy also volunteers at GiGi’s Playhouse where she works with participants with Down syndrome, and at Erin’s House for Grieving Children. Guy calls the two nonprofits her happy places.

As GiGi’s Playhouse Executive Director Holly Tonak said, Guy has an army of support behind her. Her mentors love her energy and enthusiasm and recognize the benefits she brings.

“It’s in her DNA,” Tonak said. “You just know some people have it, and she has it. When you find your space in the world, it just clicks—and she has found her safe space in the world where she can be authentically herself. And now she can be free to be herself and feel loved and celebrated in that space.”

That knowledge changes a person internally, which shows externally, and Guy’s smile is the perfect mood setter. Her emotions and demeanor are infectious, helping others relax like taking an extra-deep breath. It’s part of what also makes her an exceptional tour guide on the PFW campus.

But Guy can also relate with those struggling with depression or anger or other issues because of losses. When Guy was 10 years old, her mother died from cancer just three months after her grandmother passed. Five months later, her great-grandfather also died. 

She had to grow up faster than most, Guy said. She first went to Erin’s House as a client.

“She shared that Erin’s House helped her learn more about herself and who she was,” said Ellen Roemke, the organization’s director of volunteers. “That is why she is so full of compassion and empathy for the kids she works with. She gets it! JaNia is the perfect example of resilience and perseverance, showing us that many times when we help others, we are helping ourselves.”

Driven to help others, Guy originally thought she wanted to become a nurse and started studying psychology early in her studies at PFW. Then she heard about human services, and quickly found a new calling.

Patricia Eber, department chair, said Guy is a strong advocate for the program, speaking with dozens of new human services students and mentoring them on how to be successful.

“JaNia truly has a caring heart and will continue to encourage others and help them to improve their lives,” Eber said. 

Volunteering at Erin’s House only reinforced Guy’s decision to switch majors, saying it showed her how she could make big differences in people’s lives. She also credits the support of PFW staff members Ryan Meriwether, B.A. ’16, and his mother, Rhonda, as well as Sara Underwood, B.A. ’14, and Sable Eldridge, B.A. ’22, for their mentoring, and Patricia Eber, human services department chair, for her role as a mentor.

“Sometimes I feel like I need to do more to pay them back, but they always tell me to just keeping being the person I am and that just being myself is payment enough,” Guy said.

It’s partly because they see the best of themselves in her.

As Tonak said, “She’s one to watch because she is bound to do amazing things. I have never met somebody at her age who has the fire and passion to do amazing things and think outside of themselves so much. The world needs JaNia.”