One of the privileges of my position as BN360 Program Manager is having the opportunity to meet and learn about incredible young professionals in the Buffalo Niagara region. Kerry Battenfeld, the BN360 Spotlight Professional for the month of March, is one such person. Kerry’s passion for people and her love for the Buffalo Niagara region are infectious—and, as you’ll read in our interview below, they keep her inspired professionally.
On a non-traditional career path and what inspires her
“As an undergraduate, I thought I might like to pursue law school, but declined an offer to pursue a law track. At around the same time, a few friends of mine had joined the Peace Corps, and I decided to take a chance and do it, too. I served as a water and sanitation technician in Honduras.
Being in Honduras was an interesting experience—and completely unlike what I experienced growing up and living in the United States. The Peace Corps provides three months of language and skills training, but nothing can quite prepare you for the experience. I saw violence and political instability. For the first time, I started to understand the reasons why some people might choose to leave their home, their lives, and everything they know.
After finishing my work in Honduras, I decided to look for jobs back home in Buffalo. I had heard about a great job at the International Institute and ended up landing the job. For the next several years, I worked in victim services with survivors of human trafficking. During that time, I developed a strong working relationship with an attorney who is now my supervisor at Volunteer Lawyers Project. It was that very experience and relationship that sparked thoughts of going back to law school.
My experiences in the Peace Corps and at the International Institute inspired me and deeply impacted my choice in law schools and in the degrees I would pursue. I decided to attend the University at Buffalo (UB) because they offered a dual law and social work degree program that focused on trauma-informed care. That had become important to me given the populations I wanted to work with and what they had experienced.”
On the skill that has been most valuable to her
“Relationship building. Whether you are just starting your first internship or you are well on your way, my best advice is that you go into each experience with a focus on developing and fostering relationships—not just with leadership, but with fellow interns, co-workers, supervisors, etc. Being able to develop relationships is a big part of why I am where I am. If I hadn’t had the relationship I did with the attorney at the the Volunteer Lawyers Project, I might not have gone back to pursue law school—and I might not be doing what I am today.”
On the hardest part about her job
“Every day, I work with people who have suffered extreme violence and/or trauma. Whether you realize it or not, hearing their stories and sharing in their emotions can lead to secondary trauma. While the nature of my work might be more sensitive or heavier than what other people face, the hardest part right now is something we can all relate to: being new and feeling overwhelmed.
I just finished my first full year as a lawyer, and on top of trying to deal with the responsibilities that come with that position, I am also trying to keep up with the rapid and turbulent changes in policy and regulation. It’s a lot to take in, but I’m lucky to be part of a community of people who not only work in this field but are also willing to share and serve as a support for one another.”
How she manages work-life balance
“I have a group of great friends! Many of my friends also work in social services or similar positions, so we understand each other’s challenges and triumphs. Exercise is also a huge stress reliever for me. And finally, it’s good to have a therapist or counselor—someone you can check in with occasionally. People don’t talk about this enough, but I cannot stress how important it has been in helping me cope.”
Learn more about BN360
BN360 is the young professional development and engagement program of the Buffalo Niagara Partnership. To learn more about BN360 and get answers to a few of your most pressing questions, start with this blog post. You can also learn more here. And if you’d like to talk about how you can get involved, you’ll find my contact information below. I look forward to helping you grow as a professional.