Alumna wins Social Work award
Katherine Hammer ran away from home in Austin at age 15. Her life changed after meeting a social worker who inspired her to pursue a career helping others.
Almost 30 years later, Hammer has been recognized for her service to people with mental illness in Brooklyn. In December, she received the Mid Career Exemplary Leadership Award from the New York City chapter of the National Association of Social Workers.
“It was flattering to be nominated for the award,” says Hammer, who received her master’s in social workfrom OLLU in 1995. “It’s even more flattering to receive it. It’s not something I expected. I am humbled.”
In Brooklyn, Hammer is the Vice President of Residential Support and Community Services for the Institute of Community Living (ICL), a non-profit that serves family and adults affected by mental illness. She joined ICL in 2010 as the director of a program that partners with those affected by mental illness and their recovery..
Promoted to her current position in 2012, she received the National Association of Social Workers award for “providing exemplary leadership qualities and a unique commitment to improving the communities she serves.”
For the past 23 years, Hammer has worked with victims of domestic and sexual violence. She has helped people with drug and alcohol addictions. She has served the homeless.
“I’m a high school dropout,” she says. “I had run away from home and wound up entering a program called, Middle Earth. I met a social worker, Jerene Petersen, who was the program director. I subsequently moved into my own apartment and lived there for six months. I got into social work because of that experience.”
After earning a general equivalency diploma, Hammer, at age 17, enrolled at St. Edwards University and transferred to the University of Texas at Austin, where she earned a bachelor’s degree in social work.
“After going to UT, I wanted a different experience,” she says. “And Our Lady of the Lake had a good reputation for their clinical program.”
At OLLU, Hammer says, she learned “the fundamentals of good practice” and developed “a commitment to social justice.” Afterward, she earned a doctorate in social work from Smith College, and moved to New York in 2003.
Her journey has taken her from high school dropout and teenage runaway to award-winning vice president of a social service agency. Hammer carries a lofty title but describes her work in simple terms. “I help people get better,” she says.