Katharine Ogden: Making a WISE Difference in the Community
Katharine Ogden made her presence felt as an All-American skier at Dartmouth College (Class of ‘21). Today, she is making a difference right down the road in Lebanon with WISE.
“WISE, as an organization, has a pretty broad mission statement in that the organization’s goal is to eradicate gender-based violence in the Upper Valley,” said Ogden. “My role involves working directly with survivors who are currently experiencing gender-based violence, usually helping them through the logistics of fleeing from an abusive relationship, or with processing what they had been through.”
Ogden is enrolled in a remote Master of Social Work program through Columbia University. Half of the degree consists of online classes and the other half is fieldwork. Living in nearby White River Junction, she was matched with WISE by her fieldwork coordinator at Columbia.
“WISE was really interesting to me when I talked about it with my fieldwork coordinator,” said Ogden. “I started there in September working three days a week as an intern, which was a part of my education. It was an unpaid position where I was learning and benefiting from working with the advocacy team with WISE.”
“Starting in the first week of May, I transitioned from being an unpaid intern into a part-time employee for the duration of the summer,” Ogden continued. “I’ll then go into my next field placement for school starting in September.”
Ogden’s interest in social work began at Dartmouth College in a Poverty and Education class with Professor Michele Tine.
“It was my favorite class I’ve ever taken — in college, in grad school, anything,” said Ogden. “It was an incredible class and an amazing professor. We learned a lot about the ways that systemic injustice affects child development, especially at really young ages. That first sparked my interest in working in social work because I was starting to understand the nuance that contributes to systematic problems, and I wanted to be a part of addressing it.”
As a sophomore at Dartmouth College, Ogden was accepted to the SIBs Program through the Center for Social Impact. It’s a one-on-one mentoring program that pairs Dartmouth students with children ages 6-12.
“I was paired up with this incredible little girl,” said Ogden. “I got to know what her life looked like and we had a lot of fun together. I really appreciated the privilege of getting to know her and her family over the subsequent year of weekly meetings. I value engaging with a wide and diverse swath of my community, and this experience certainly highlighted that value for me.”
“When I think about social work as a career path, getting to meet and work with so many different unique people is certainly a draw for me,” Ogden added.
Enter where Ogden is today.
There are different areas of WISE, including education and advocacy.
“I work on the advocacy team, working directly with survivors who are currently fleeing domestic violence or who are working to process domestic violence in their past,” said Ogden. “My day-to-day is varied. We work with any survivor who comes to us, is in crisis, and needs help. That means there’s a lot of people on any given day while sometimes, there might be not as much going on.”
One of Ogden’s responsibilities is answering the 24-hour crisis line.
“I will take shifts answering the crisis line – both during the day and then twice a month – I also have overnight shifts on the crisis line,” she said.
By doing that, Ogden put herself outside her comfort zone.
“When I first started on the crisis line, it was really overwhelming and I was nervous,” she said. “But watching myself gain confidence in that setting has been rewarding.”
Ogden also meets with survivors who come to the program center.
“My area of focus is on housing advocacy, so I frequently help people with housing applications,” she said. “A lot of that is working through subsidized housing applications and helping connect people with other resources. Housing in the Upper Valley is pretty tight, so this usually takes some creativity.”
“We have a safe house at WISE where survivors who are fleeing and need housing can live, so I also regularly work with our guests there, helping to coordinate that experience for them,” Ogden continued. “Also, fairly regularly, we get calls from local hospitals to meet with survivors, so that’s another regular task of mine.”
If people screen in at the hospital for domestic violence or sexual assault, WISE will be notified and an advocate will come to speak with the survivor in the hospital.
All of this work helps Ogden feel a closer connection to the community, which is another aspect that motivates her every day.
“I’ve noticed a much closer connection to the community from being able to work in this nitty-gritty, in-depth way with the people of the Upper Valley,” said Ogden. “It’s also so empowering to be able to feel confident in myself in those types of situations and then simultaneously, watch the mind-blowing resilience of the people I’ve been working with in the face of some very difficult situations.”
Ogden’s experience as a Dartmouth student-athlete has helped her adapt to – and cope with – the challenging situations she comes across today.
“The work that I’m doing right now – and that I plan to continue doing throughout my life – while it’s incredible and empowering, can also be really hard,” she said. “Sometimes, it gets very emotional. From being an athlete and especially from learning how to be an athlete while in college, I learned a lot about how to take care of myself by using exercise and time outdoors – both as an outlet for my energy as well as a tool for processing.”
Ogden always felt like she had an outlet in the ski team.
“I was able to go out and do a hard workout, be outside, and be with people,” she said. “That was so crucial to my well-being and mental health throughout my undergraduate experience. Having that definitely taught me a lot about myself and how I need to take care of myself.
“Working with WISE, having that tool in my toolbox and knowing I can help myself feel better when I’m not feeling the best – by going out and going out for a run, or going for a bike ride or calling a friend to go for a hike – that type of outlet has been really important for me,” Ogden continued. “That was definitely something I learned at Dartmouth, how important that is and how impactful that is on my life.”
Late in her time at Dartmouth College, Ogden’s focus turned to racing for the United States National Team for cross-country skiing.
“My senior year at Dartmouth (because it was still the end of the COVID era) and one year after, I was racing primarily in Europe on the World Cup Circuit,” she said. “I didn’t qualify for the Olympics, which was a bummer, but I was close to it. I spent a lot of time traveling and racing those two years.”
Then, Ogden’s focus turned to Columbia’s online social work program, a two-year program in which she had already started part-time. But this past school year (2022-23) was her first full-time year, highlighted by her fieldwork at WISE.
“I have really loved working at WISE, which is why I was eager to take a position that extended into the summer,” she said. “Every single person that works at the organization is an amazing friend and role model, so that has also been wonderful and has made me feel inclined to this type of work.”
As WISE executive director Peggy O’Neil said, “We have appreciated having Katharine with us at WISE. From the very first day, she jumped right in with a beautiful sense of compassion and commitment to her work. We’ll miss her when she leaves us at the end of the summer, but are pleased that she will remain close.”
“It also says a lot about the Dartmouth community that students return and settle in the Upper Valley,” O’Neil continued.
Next school year, Ogden’s field placement will also be in the Upper Valley at the veteran’s hospital in White River Junction.
“I will be in two of their inpatient clinics, intermittently,” she said. “That will be a very different journey for me. My last year of school will be next year and then I’ll be graduated and have my degree. Because the population, the work, and being in a hospital will be so different, it’s hard to really know how I’ll come out of that feeling and where I’m inclined to go after graduating from Columbia.”
“But that said, I have had such an incredible experience working at WISE that I would be absolutely inclined to pursue something similar,” Ogden continued. “It has been so educational and empowering.”
What is the most rewarding feeling?
“Seeing survivors we’ve been working with for months finding success, finding more peace,” said Ogden.
“Being a part of it all has definitely been an incredible experience.”