Rachel O’Grady ‘09 is an advocate in the truest sense of the word. Whether advocating for those with chronic medical conditions or being a voice for victims of sexual violence, Rachel credits her Social Work degree from Anna Maria College for giving her the confidence to help others.  

Rachel was born with Congenital Spina Bifida Occulta and Congenital Tethered Cord Syndrome. As a result of the two congenital disorders, Rachel was also born with learning disabilities. At the time, classroom inclusivity for those with learning disabilities was not as supportive as it is today, which made Rachel’s elementary, middle school, and high school years in Connecticut a nightmare.  

“I was the kid where teachers basically sat me in the back of the classroom and said, don’t raise your hand, don’t ask questions. They were telling me please don’t disrupt the learning of your peers who unlike you have a future who unlike you are going to college,” Rachel explained about her struggles as a young student, “They made me feel like I would never be smart enough to attend college.” 

Rachel was trying to figure out her future when a family friend who worked as a guidance counselor offered to help her find a college that would support her and help her find her purpose. The guidance counselor helped Rachel apply to Anna Maria College and made an appointment with Dennis Vanasse who now serves as Director of Anna Maria College’s Learning Center located at the Student Success Center.    

Rachel’s initial meeting with Dennis was so impactful, that Rachel knew right away that because of the attention and support of caring faculty, she would be able to succeed at Anna Maria College and earn her bachelor’s in social work.  

“That meeting was the first time in years that I had felt hope,” Rachel explained, “For once I felt like I was not doing this alone. Dennis really took away any fear and anxiety I had, that I wouldn’t succeed. And true to his word for four years, he was by my side, good, bad, and ugly. He advocated for me, he went to professors for me, he made sure that my accommodations were followed through.” 

In addition to the support she received at the Student Success Center, Rachel also found her passion for Social Work at Anna Maria College. A chance encounter with Magi Bish in the Dining Hall turned into an internship at Anna Maria’s Molly Bish Center. Created in 2004 in memory of Molly Bish, a 16-year-old girl who was abducted in 2000, the Molly Bish Center focuses on the protection of children and the elderly. Over a decade later, Rachel still volunteers and remains active in the Center. 

After graduating in 2009, Rachel’s degree opened the door to career opportunities with the National Organization for Rare Disorder (NORD), the Rape Crisis Center in Worcester, Jane Doe No More, and most recently State Representative Jillian Gilchrist’s Office. Rachel then continued her education at Anna Maria College earning a graduate certificate in Victim Studies in 2013. 

“My time in the social work department was really the best four years of my life. I never saw myself succeeding academically until Anna Maria College. I was able to find a career path where I found my passion and my purpose. I thrived in the social work department, and I absolutely had the best professors on campus hands down. My four years with the Molly Bish Center during my undergraduate years literally saved my life.”