PSY Undergraduate Internship Spotlight: Olivia DeCator

July 6, 2023 - Shelly DeJong

Name: Olivia DeCator

Year: Senior 

Hometown: Lowell, Michigan 

Major: Psychology, Youth and Society minor 

Internship: Fort Wayne Police Dept. Hope and Recovery Team (HART) 






Have any psych classes made an impact on you?   

I really have enjoyed all of my classes and I love the people in my classes. The reason I sought out this internship was because of taking CEP261 Substance Abuse last fall. I took away so much from that class. That class changed my whole perspective on substance use disorders and how to go about addressing the issue because arresting our way out of this situation is not going to help. I learned about all the ways people have dealt with substance use in the past and present, like the war on drugs and things like that, and it really made me want to be involved more in helping with this problem. 


Tell us about your internship! 

This internship is through the Fort Wayne Police Department. Back in 2021, they were given a grant through the U.S. Federal Comprehensive Opioid Simulate program, as well as the Lutheran Foundation and the Indiana Family Social Services. With the grant, they formed the Hope and Recovery Team which consists of two social workers, two plain-clothed officers, and a peer recovery coach. They also hired a grief support counselor to help support the family after a loss to opioids or other stimulants. So, within 24 hours of an overdose, a non-fatal overdose, or a mental health crisis involving another drug, a police officer will go out and see if they want any resources. Then within 72 hours, the police officer in plain clothing as well as a social worker, or with me, go out and ask them if they need any resources. We don't try to force them into anything, but we provide it if they need it. The resources can vary from anything from food, insurance, syringe services, or help getting into treatment or mental health services. We try to do three touch points with them. So first, we'll try to call them two times and if they don't answer within 72 hours, we'll go out and knock on whatever address we have. 

I'm allowed to listen in on the calls, so hearing personal stories has been really interesting. Getting them resources could be needle syringe services, counseling, access to food, etc. It's rewarding being able to network and connect people with the resources that they need or being a listening ear. Another thing I have learned is Narcan administration training because we hand that out. We got the Narcan through the grant as well. I also have learned about grant writing, which I think is an important skill. 

Every Wednesday, we do street outreach called Handing Out Hope. Every third Wednesday of the month, it’s at the public library and about 20 different resources come. Those can range from cell phone services to HIV tests. Help with housing is also a big thing. If people from the community come and visit 3 or 4 of the resources, they can then get a hot meal at a food truck outside. We serve about 80 people a week. Other Wednesdays are more casual--people don't have to go talk to anybody if they don't want to, so usually even more people come. They received a grant to give out sleeping bags and backpacks full of $200 worth of necessities including bus passes. Any unhoused person in need can come there for food and support. That's where I really get my hands on experience. 


What do you like most about your internship so far?   

I really like the social workers I work with--they have given me a lot of insight. After working here, even just for the short time that I have, they’ve helped me realize that I do really want to get my master's in social work. They've been like mentors to me. Another thing I really like is that my uncle is one of the plain clothes officers, so it's nice working with him. The firsthand experience of talking with people in that situation has also meant a lot to me. A lot of people approach me to tell me their stories and what they want help with. It makes me feel good that I am approachable. 


Do you have any advice for people who are looking for an internship or in the future? 

I would definitely say to explore your interests. I was afraid in the beginning to pursue what I wanted because the school part of it was daunting. But stick to your interests! If you feel interested in something, pursue it because you're going to be doing that the rest of your life. It should be something you're passionate about. 


Has there been anything about your internship that surprised you? 

I was surprised at how willing everybody was to talk to me. I didn't know how that was going to go and I didn't know how personal I would get with people. But we see the same people over and over again every week, so it's really nice to learn people's names and talk to them.  

I’ve kind of surprised myself too, because I haven’t been uncomfortable at all. I remember being a kid and feeling uncomfortable in situations like this, but I haven’t been uncomfortable talking with people at all. So that's kind of been something that surprised me about myself.