Portrait of a Graduate
ROBIN CONTINO ’91
CONSCIENTIOUS COMMUNITY MEMBER
A conscientious community member who demonstrates empathy and integrity, respects every individual as a child of God, and acts as a steward of the earth's resources.
“I believe one of the most important things in life is to have a sense of community, and I strive to lend that belief to my children and to those with whom I interact. We are nothing if we don't have others to share and love.”
Nepal, Bangladesh, India, Sri Lanka, Fiji, Kiribati, Cameroon, Zambia, the Dominican Republic, Haiti, Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan, Iraq, London, France, Dubai, Qatar, Sierra Leone, Ukraine, and Germany. As an international social worker, Robin Contino ’91 is often on a plane departing from her home in Baltimore to embark on a service mission.
She works for Catholic Relief Services (CRS), its global headquarters in Baltimore, and provides technical advice in trauma healing, stress management, and resiliency. Robin promotes safe and dignified programming inclusive of all people, especially those most vulnerable or living on the margins within communities affected by manmade conflict and/or natural disaster. “I listen and learn from the people and communities with whom I work; listening promotes action, empowerment, and ultimately ownership, which are keys to sustainable development.”
In her eyes, a conscientious community member is someone who is not only aware of both the privileges and injustices facing their community, but someone who expresses gratitude for the good and promotes productive and sustainable change for the less than good. “This is the foundation of what I try to do on a daily basis—acknowledge the good and act to change the less than good,” said Robin.
Robin knew she wanted to explore and learn from the world at a young age. She dreamed of joining the Peace Corps and as soon as she learned about apartheid in middle school, she focused all of her school projects on Nelson Mandela, the Serengeti, or anything related to Africa. “Social justice just spoke to me, and so did equality, human rights, and Martin Luther King, Jr.,” she said. “Since I can remember, I have been drawn to the differences and similarities that tie our world together. My parents were always very active in the community, which illuminated the importance to connect and give to those who may have less. As soon as I knew what social work truly was, I was driven.”
According to Robin, SPSG played a pivotal role in her formation, “SPSG, along with my family and friends, instilled a sense of belonging and facilitated a sense of meaning and purpose in my life. When I think back, it was action, faith, education, and positive role models that collectively stimulated my sense of being and ultimately my purpose.”
Following graduation, Robin received a B.A. in Sociology from the University of Maryland, College Park and a Master of Social Work from Florida State University. After completing her master’s degree, she worked for an organization called the Youth Crisis Center (YCC). “I was an intern there during the last year of my master’s program before they offered me a job,” she said. “It was during this position that I decided to go overseas to volunteer.” She applied to the Jesuit Volunteer Corps and in 1998 was selected to serve in Nepal for two years, during which time she helped to start the first Bachelor of Social Work program in the country.
Nepal became Robin’s second home. She spent nearly 15 years in the country, met her husband and raised her two children, now 6 and 9, in their younger years. During that time, she had a private counseling practice serving the local and international community and consulted as a project manager and technical advisor with International Non-Government Organizations. She also coached soccer and taught health and physical education at an American international school.
Throughout her travels, Robin makes a deliberate effort to acknowledge and connect with everyone she encounters, “It can be as simple as making direct eye contact, sharing a smile, experiencing a moment, exchanging stories, or enjoying a cup of tea.” said Robin. “I believe one of the most important things in life is to have a sense of community, and I strive to lend that belief to my children and to those with whom I interact. We are nothing if we don’t have others to share and love.”
In 2004 the Peace Corps hired Robin as a Special Services Officer based out of their headquarters in Washington, D.C. “I provided counseling to volunteers and responded to emergencies overseas,” she said. Following the Indian Ocean earthquake and tsunami, they hired her to be the Country Director for their crisis response program in Sri Lanka. While in Sri Lanka, Robin became connected with CRS and was hired to serve as the Country Manager in Nepal following the end of her term at Peace Corps in 2006 before returning to Baltimore in 2009.
“Living in countries where electricity and running water are less then consistent has instilled in me and my family a real appreciation for our earth and her resources,” she said. “In my house we do not use paper towels, we use towels that we wash and re-use. We hang dry our clothes to save electricity. We turn off lights when they are not in use. We keep the temperature in our house between 66–68 degrees and wear a fleece jacket if we are chilly. We turn the water off while brushing our teeth or shampooing our hair and simply use water to rinse. We do not throw food away; we cook it or eat it before it expires. We are very mindful of how we spend each of our pennies. We recycle whatever and whenever we can.”
Robin’s work has restored a sense of belonging, meaning, and purpose when people and communities may have been at the point of losing hope. “The exposure I have had to various cultures, geographies, governments, histories, societies, communities, families, and individuals has been nothing short of transformational,” she said.
“I feel blessed every day to have such an amazing and fulfilling professional career, and I have learned so much from the people I have served and cultures I have experienced,” said Robin. Her advice to SPSG students? “Find your path. The signs are there—you just need to be willing to look, listen, and learn.”