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A HELPING HAND
WOMAN THRIVES ON VERSATILITY OF SOCIAL WORK

She journeyed to the site of that monstrous massacre, ground zero, offering counseling and crisis intervention in a Red Cross shelter there on Sept. 11, 2001.

"Many narrowly escaped the twin towers and were traumatized, grief-stricken and besieged by survivor's guilt," said Red Cross volunteer Suzanne Boehm of Hamburg. "Grief took on many forms, from loss of life of people they knew, to being denied access to their apartments near the site, to economic woes including unemployment, because entire companies and established clientele suddenly vanished." Boehm's cousin, and the cousin's husband, had fled amid falling debris.

But for Boehm -- also a Roswell Park Cancer Institute medical social worker and an Air Force reservist -- Sept. 11 was just the start.

"As military operations' tempo climbed following Sept. 11, Red Cross' charter mandate to address needs of military personnel became paramount," said Boehm, 37, a member of the local Red Cross Disaster Mental Health Services Committee and its military subcommittee.

Judith A. Rucki, a representative of the American Red Cross' Greater Buffalo Chapter, said of Boehm: "One of her 'jobs' is to make military personnel aware of the many services offered by the Red Cross through our Armed Forces Emergency Services program. Locally, the Greater Buffalo Chapter provided a link (for exchanging messages) between over 1,000 members of the military and their families in the past year."

In the Air Force Reserves 914th Airlift Wing, Boehm's job as an operations resource manager, she says, "is to make sure all the flight crews are qualified to fly. Being properly qualified includes up-to-date physicals and current flight training."

Boehm will never forget her efforts to offer comfort in the path of terrorism in New York City, even when it meant launching a "several-block search for oolong tea" for Asians at the Red Cross shelter.

A lifelong resident of the Southtowns, born and raised in Blasdell, Boehm won the Excellence in Social Work Award when she graduated from Buffalo State College summa cum laude in 1995.

"I knew early on in my training that I wanted to specialize in cancer social work, where science and human behavior intersect -- and art, in its infinite forms, has therapeutic use," Boehm said. "I sought the opportunity to intern at Roswell Park's social work department, separate from a paid position in ambulatory care."

At the same time, she completed an art therapy internship with MollyOlga Neighborhood Art Classes, assisting at-risk youths traumatized by domestic or neighborhood violence. Boehm subsequently earned a master's degree in 1996 from the University at Buffalo School of Social Work's Advanced Standing Program.

Soon after, she accepted a promotion to medical social worker, her current job at Roswell Park, assigned with Lymphoma, Bone Marrow Transplant and Urology Services.

With a nurse colleague, she helps run a cancer support group, jointly sponsored by Roswell Park and the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society. As a volunteer with the society's Patient Services Committee since 1999, she raises awareness of the social needs of people with blood malignancies.

"I help individuals and families cope with emotional and practical demands a cancer diagnosis carries," Boehm said.

As a student, she says, she hoped for a career to "encompass my personal interests in the life sciences, art and human behavior." With the versatility of social work, she got her wish.

Have an idea about a local person whose life would make a good profile or a neighborhood issue worth exploring? Write to: Louise Continelli, The Buffalo News, P.O. Box 100, Buffalo, NY 14240, or e-mail citydesk@buffnews.com.

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