IN THE TWO SHORT YEARS since she graduated from Hamilton College, Caitlin Kennedy ’12 has already established herself in a promising career that wholeheartedly channels Taft’s ethic of Non ut sibi.
Kennedy works as a contracts associate at the Center for Employment Opportunities (CEO), a New York-based nonprofit providing employment services to men and women with criminal convictions. The 2017 recipient of the Superstar Foundation’s highly coveted Veronica Award, Kennedy is literally CEO’s star employee.
Kennedy, who became interested in pursuing a legal career at the age of 7, credits Taft for inspiring her focus on community service and giving back.
“I went on a service trip to Guatemala with Taft when I was 16, and it was my first look at a community that had less and was willing to accept help,” Kennedy explains. “Taft’s motto—Not to be served but to serve—became really ingrained in me.”
She began her freshman year at Hamilton on the pre-law track, with the larger aspiration of a legal career that would allow her to defend people of underserved populations. Several college courses, including comparative literature classes on trials and prison writings, as well as a sociology class on law and society, became important for Kennedy’s trajectory, as they opened her eyes to the realities of racially-charged courtrooms and the U.S. legal system’s injustices.
During her senior year of college, Kennedy interned at the public defender’s office in Utica, New York, and another at a corporate law firm in Manhattan. The latter solidified her decision to forgo a career in corporate law, table her law school applications, and focus primarily on criminal justice work post-graduation.
Kennedy was drawn to CEO’s belief that if individuals receive employment placement services upon their release from prison, they will be less likely to be reincarcerated in the future. With the goal of reducing recidivism among the parole and probation populations, CEO provides a combination of transitional jobs, handson training, mental health counseling, job placement, and post-placement services.
She says that participants are usually referred to CEO by their parole officers, but anyone between the ages of 18 and 25 with criminal justice involvement can request to be a part of their program.
Kennedy began at CEO as a job coach, responsible for managing an average of 120 caseloads per week. It was more than a job; she served as a mentor and advocate for many men and women transitioning from incarcerated life back into society.
“I’ve been lucky enough to develop friendships with some of the individuals I was assigned to as a job coach,” Kennedy shares. “It’s incredibly rewarding to see their progress.”
Kennedy has been unsurprised, but still affected, to see that the overwhelming majority of CEO’s convicted clients are men and women of color.
“At one point when I was a job coach, I had 130 caseloads assigned to me, and out of that number only two men were white,” Kennedy recalls. “When you see firsthand that the statistics you read about are true, it’s eye-opening.”
As contract management associate Kennedy no longer works one on one with clients; in her new role she is gaining more hands-on experience with the company’s legal division. She misses coaching, but learning a different side of the business is helping her figure out the next step in her career.
“I know I want to go the policy and direct service route,” says Kennedy. “And I want to get my master’s—I’m looking into different programs—but I’ve stopped thinking about law school. I’ve realized I’m on a different path.”
—Carola Lovering ’07