When LaShonda Hanna, ’13, arrived at the University of Richmond from the Bahamas, she had plans to attend medical school after graduation. But as she moved through her early coursework, she realized that the lab research associated with medicine didn’t offer enough personal interaction.

While searching for the right balance of medical research and relationships with patients, Hanna began working with Rubicon, a substance abuse and mental health treatment center in Northside Richmond, as a volunteer in the University's Build It civic-engagement program. One day her supervisor noted that pain is often the gateway to addiction and almost instantly she found her new path.

With that statement in mind, Hanna created an internship project titled Portraits of Pain with help from her faculty mentor, political science professor Jennifer Erkulwater. The project explores the idea of pain as a gateway to addiction, with research on how prescription drugs have the potential to exacerbate the problem in the U.S.

Hanna wanted to continue her work with Rubicon, and subsequently applied to the Bonner Center for Civic Engagement’s Burhans Civic Fellowship. The grant allowed her to spend 10 weeks during the summer working with the staff and clients at Rubicon. Hanna’s responsibilities included performing client intake and admissions, leading group sessions with clients in the detox process, and working with a program that support children whose parents are clients at Rubicon.

Hanna says that interacting with clients during the admission process has changed many of her own perspectives. “I came to realize that drug use can impact people from all walks of life, regardless of race, gender, wealth, and education level.”

She also sees strong correlations between what she’s learned in the classroom and her experiences at Rubicon. Her social justice courses focus on the impact of addiction, crime, education, and public health on a community—all scenarios she sees firsthand at Rubicon.

Hanna acknowledges that the experience was challenging at times, particularly as the youngest person working at Rubicon. However, she wouldn’t change the opportunity to see the human side of addiction. She’s even seen the change that can occur in patients as they start to realize the source of their addictions, and learn ways to break the cycle.

The experience at Rubicon also has solidified Hanna’s desire to work with people—although she now sees opportunity in the nonprofit world. She is particularly interested in working with grassroots organizations that focus on HIV-positive women and children, and she hopes to one day start her own nonprofit organization.