Get to know Laura McElherne

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We asked Laura McElherne a few questions about herself and her role at ICH. Read on to learn more!

Laura McElherne, MSW

1. How would you describe your role at ICH?

I’m a Senior Project Manager at ICH, which means that I lead teams in conducting research, evaluation, assessment, and capacity building projects around wellbeing and justice. 

2. What is your educational background?

I have a Masters of Social Work from the Silberman School of Social Work at Hunter College in NYC, with concentrations in Community Organizing and Policy. I had incredible field placements during my time at Silberman: one in the field office of a state assemblymember, and another with a team that worked on participatory action research (PAR) projects initiated and led by grassroots community groups. Most people think of social work as a purely clinical field, but there is in fact a small but mighty contingent of us macro social work practitioners out there! 

3. What was your career path before coming to ICH?

My work experience before joining ICH is pretty wide ranging, but I think what’s been most personally meaningful for me has been the work I’ve done in direct service agencies, where you see up close the incredible human capacity for resilience and healing, connection and collaboration, joy and hope, and at the same time the crushing systemic and institutional barriers to wellbeing. My first social service job was with a program that connected people living on the street with permanent supportive housing. I also worked with an agency that serves families experiencing homelessness, and a research group that focused on clinical trials for substance use disorder treatment. Most recently, I was a Senior Research and Evaluation Associate at Safe Horizon, which is an organization that supports survivors of violence and abuse where I worked on projects related to the implementation and impact of trauma-informed practices in service provision. Those experiences with direct services still very much inform how I approach collaboration with my project partners.

4. What made you decide to come to ICH?

I had been looking to make a move out of NYC, where I’d lived since I was an undergrad. My husband grew up in Waltham and the greater Boston area seemed like the right choice for our family. The biggest hurdle was finding the right place to land. When I found ICH, everything really clicked into place. ICH’s focus on participatory, equitable, and trauma-informed methods is very much aligned with my values and professional interests. And there are so many bright and passionate research and evaluation practitioners at ICH, I feel like I get to learn something new from my colleagues nearly every day. 

5. What are some projects that you are working on right now?

Right now I’m entering the final year of a mixed-methods evaluation of a Massachusetts Department of Public Health initiative that’s funding local community organizations to provide low-barrier, person-centered, culturally-specific support for Black and Latino men with a history of substance use and recent incarceration, with a goal of preventing overdose deaths within those communities. I’m also thrilled to have recently started work on a new project to better understand drug testing policies and practices in parole and probation supervision agencies throughout the country, and the impact those policies have on both people under supervision and the people staffing those agencies.

6. What are your favorite projects topics and why?

I’m excited about any project where community partners are leading the way in thinking about the key questions, where to look for answers, and how to use the findings. These projects tend to be in service of collective action and advocacy for social, economic, and racial justice. 

7. What are you most excited about for the future of ICH?

I’m looking forward to seeing ICH grow into some of our staff’s subject matter expertise. I’m thinking about areas like housing and health, the justice system, or maternal health and early childhood. I think that ICH’s participatory and trauma-informed approaches, really centering the explicit needs and priorities of people who have borne the brunt of our society’s structural failures, is critical to the rigor and utility of research and evaluation work in these areas.  

8. What are your hobbies or things you like to do for fun?

I’m very into handicrafts. So like knitting, pottery, calligraphy, felting, anything small-scale that results in the creation of something at least nominally useful. I’m trying to learn how to garden now that I’m no longer in the city and have a little plot of land I can call my own. And I love to cook. But with two small kids it’s hard to find much “me time” at home, so I also do a lot of running. We live near the Middlesex Fells now and there’s a great network of trails that I’ve loved getting to explore.

9. Do you have any plans for the holidays/summer/etc? Anything that you are looking forward to?

My plan for the summer is to spend as much time as humanly possible at the beach!