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Tim O'Brien
Community Support Specialist with Anchor Behavioral Health - Catholic Charities of Washington, DC

Alumni Q&A

Tim O'Brien '11

In a series of interviews with notable alumni about their experiences at Assumption, we recently caught up with 2011 graduate Tim O'Brien, a Community Support Specialist with Anchor Behavioral Health - Catholic Charities of Washington, DC.

Q.  What are you doing now?
Currently I am a Community Support Specialist with Anchor Behavioral Health - Catholic Charities of Washington, DC. In my free time, I find myself running, watching sports, or spending time with my sister Bridget (‘00) and other relatives in the DC area.

Q: How did you acquire a job at Catholic Charities of Washington DC?
During my sophomore year at Loras College, my uncle at Catholic Charities helped connect me with the Behavioral Health Institute for a summer internship. I gained great experience and loved the work, so I returned the following summer. As I neared graduation, everything fell into place, and I returned full-time in July.

Q. What made you want to go into Behavioral Health Services?
After multiple concussions in college, I started learning more about the brain. When I took Introduction to Neuroscience and other Psychology courses, I developed a keener interest in helping those with mental illness, but it was through my summer internships in DC that I found my true calling.

Q. What is a typical day for you in your position with Catholic Charities?
Each day is a new opportunity and challenge. Working in Behavioral Health means working with clients who may be homeless, have a history of substance or physical abuse, lack insurance, benefits, transportation, access to food, employment, education, have a criminal history, and also have behavioral, mental, or physical illnesses, diseases, and conditions that need monitoring.

Some days I find myself being called to the hospital, a halfway house, a rehabilitation center, a client’s home, meeting with clients at my office, or documenting my contact with clients.

On the hardest days, I have found myself counseling clients contemplating suicide, struggling with addiction, channeling anger and aggression, or coping with the death of a loved one.

Q: What do you enjoy most about your work with Catholic Charities?
Getting to work with people who are often overlooked or neglected in society and helping them to build bridges out of poverty. Every day I have the opportunity to make a genuine difference in the world.

Q. Your work with Catholic Charities afforded you the opportunity to briefly meet Pope Francis during his visit to DC; what was that experience like?
It was surreal to say the least. In volunteering each Wednesday with St. Maria’s Meals (a Catholic Charities program seeking to provide meals for homeless individuals and those in need throughout the week by meeting them where they are), serving the meal was the focus of that day. I didn’t know how close I would be to Pope Francis, so meeting him was definitely surreal. Seeing the joy he brought to the clients that Catholic Charities serves each day was truly remarkable. After blessing the meal, Pope Francis shook hands and blessed the crowd. 

Q. How has Pope Francis’ visit impacted your faith and those involved at Catholic Charities?
His visit reinvigorated us all. As employees, it was a terrific reminder of why we do what we do each day and to always treat people with dignity and respect. 

Q. Tell us about your new blog, “My DC Odyssey”.
Absolutely. From the get go of moving to DC, everything was new and different. I found I needed a way to collect my thoughts along the way due to everything I was being challenged with at work and adjusting to post-college life.
Q.  What are some of the things you learned at Assumption?
By being involved with sports, Theater, FCA, service projects, or group projects in the classroom, I learned the importance of balance and working together to accomplish each goal. Many of the lessons I learned were from my classmates and teammates – many of whom battled different injuries or challenges, but how we worked together to overcome the challenges always reminded me of how important putting in the extra effort was.

Q: How do you feel your time at Assumption has helped you in your career thus far? 
Just this past week one of my clients complained of knee pain. I wrote, “The client noted pain on anterior and lateral locations of right knee.” It was not my first time using these terms learned from Mrs. Martin’s Anatomy & Physiology class, and I’m sure it won’t be the last! Each day I find myself writing about 4-5 pages in notes, and I always get compliments on my sentence structure, vocabulary, and attention to detail. I guess all of those corrections and rough drafts in English helped. Out of the classroom, I had multiple injuries through high school and the lessons I learned from tennis and soccer, and persevering through the injuries helps me to better help my clients every day.

Q: What are a few of your favorite memories from your time at Assumption?
Besides every day in Anatomy & Physiology my Junior year and being a part of the student section at games, I enjoyed the memories from Spanish Club, Senior year, Choir, the production of Pirates of Penzance, the soccer team Senior year, and all of the friends made throughout. Beating the Seniors in Dodgeball as Freshmen in gym class a few times wasn’t too bad either!

Q:  Looking back on your time at Assumption, what are some of the experiences that helped prepare you for what you’re doing now?
During my Senior year I made a serious effort to get involved in all of the things I still wanted to participate in and that meant being the newbie to a lot of clubs, organizations, and teams. It was through these involvements that I was able to connect with students from every grade and learn new perspectives on high school and life. In learning these new perspectives and gaining these new friendships, I was able to learn how to connect with people of varying ages. At age 22, my 25 clients range in age from 25-66, and it was through building ties with those younger than me that I was able to develop the communication skills necessary to do my job effectively. 

Q: Who were some of the biggest influences during your time at Assumption?
Being the youngest of five to attend AHS [Kat (‘97), Bridget (‘00), Kevin (‘07), and Brendan (‘09)] gave me great guides throughout high school and having Brendan at school with me my first two years was definitely helpful. Of course, my parents played a large role in my development, but as far as AHS faculty and staff, many had great influence on me. Mrs. Martin, Mrs. Wallace, Mrs. LaCorte, Mrs. Luton, and Mrs. McGuire all played important roles in my development throughout high school. Athletically, coaches Greg and Sam Zeller (soccer) as well as Joe and Dave Bush (tennis) all were important throughout the years. 

Q:  What suggestions or advice do you have for students who may want to pursue a career in Behavioral Sciences?
Do it. If you like a challenge and are passionate, by all means, do it. If you have questions, you have a great staff at AHS there to help, many in the AHS community locally that I’m sure could assist in setting up a shadow day or internship, and I, of course, would be happy to answer any questions. The great thing is that you have so many resources at your fingertips. I cannot express just how fulfilling the work can be, and I would definitely encourage you to give it serious thought. 

Q: Do you have any last words of encouragement for the Class of 2016?
Being the top dogs and leaders of the school is such a great feeling, but the time goes by fast. Work to leave a legacy you can look back on and be proud. Enjoy your Senior year at AHS. Don’t forget to take some pictures, open the textbook now and again, and thank your teachers, coaches, and parents along the way. One of the biggest challenges is staying in touch with friends post-graduation, but it’s worth the effort. I can’t wait to see all of the great things you accomplish (like beating Bettendorf). Go Knights!
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