Lifetimes of helping

by Matt Jardin  |   

Cass Pook standing in rural area covered in snow
(Photo courtesy of Cass Pook)

When human services and social work alumna Cass Pook says she has always been a helper, she’s not just referring to her nature as an empathetic and compassionate listener. Pook means  that epigenetically — that memories of community service are ingrained in her core and passed down through generations, referencing past designated village helpers in her Tlingit tribe.

“Culturally, it's in my DNA to be a helper,” said Pook. “Looking back on it throughout history, 100 or 200 years ago I would have been doing the same thing. I was born to be a social worker.”

In this lifetime, Pook has had plenty of motivation to pursue human services and social work. Inspired by her mother and her social worker sister, who passed away in 2011, Pook went back to school in 2013 at the age of 51 after getting married and raising five children.

Even before returning to school, Pook was already building on her helpful nature by working as a patient access specialist at Southeast Alaska Regional Health Consortium (SEARHC) in Sitka, Alaska. However, in order to do more, she knew she needed to pursue higher education and take the torch from her sister.

First enrolling at the University of Alaska Fairbanks, Pook earned her certificate in rural human services in 2016, her Associate of Applied Science in human services in 2018 and her Bachelor of Arts in social work in 2022. At the same time, she began working as a chemical dependency counselor at Raven’s Way, a SEARHC facility treating substance abuse in adolescents.

For her graduate degree, Pook not only transitioned to UAA, but also from SEARHC to the State of Alaska Department of Family and Community Services (DFCS). As project assistant on the complex care team, she works to place youths and adults into the appropriate support programs.

With her Master of Social Work, Pook hopes to continue serving her community through DFCS. For instance, in a secondary role as tribal liaison assistant, Pook is helping lead a pilot program to establish a Family Justice Center Alliance facility in Alaska. 

Additionally, Pook plans on continuing her education by pursuing a doctorate in either law or tribal human rights, but only after a much-deserved break to welcome her seventh grandchild to the world.

“You have to remember that you can still learn from anyone if you’re listening and paying attention,” said Pook. “There's always room to learn more, to ask questions, to get feedback.”


This story originally appeared in the UAA Green and Gold News.