Mary Breen’s Eye-Opening Act

JAMES MIRANDA, Sports Editor

Mary Breen’s first time in New York was 2001. A week later her eyes were opened to the September 11 attacks, but her eyes opened wider when she realized the difference she can make by helping sexual assault victims.

Breen, Pace’s sexual assault and education specialist, was hired in January to fulfill a new job, but a familiar one for her, personally.

The Wisconsin native moved to New York after the attacks and discovered a volunteer opportunity with NY Youth at Risk. She worked with two programs—Woman to Woman and Beyond Barriers—that dealt with domestic violence cases. It spawned her affinity to social work.

“It was very powerful to help people in a significant way and I felt like I could make a difference,” said Breen, who was an actress at the time. “[Woman to Woman] was basically mentoring a pregnant teenager who had very little resources and it was very much a life-changing experience.”

Her newfound interest planted her at New York University where she chased a Masters of Social Work and had hands-on experience. It was intense and it showed the toughest parts of the job, such as compartmentalizing.

It is a tough gig that has her lying awake some nights because she has to put herself emotionally in the shoes of some of her clients and not be affected by it all at the same time.

“You never really shut off, but the problems and the things you hear can be so intense and triggering that you have to be able to put it aside,” Breen said. “I’m a human being. If someone’s telling you something emotional you’re going to have emotional feelings about it, which is part of the difficulty of the job and part of the beauty.”

It is a taxing job. Breen worked as a first responder with the NYU Student Health Center for four-and-a-half years having to assess victims’ situations over the phone and any given notice.

The intensity cut into her personal life more than she liked, but that is what drove her, because the job is equally as rewarding. It fulfills that ideal that she can help make a difference.

“I find [the job] fulfilling because you’re helping people and there’s something within crisis management, as opposed to other forms of clinical work, there’s something fulfilling [in] being able to address immediate needs,” said Breen, whose mother was also a social worker.

Initially, Breen thought that her job defined her, but then she became a mother of two boys.

“Now I definitely would say that first I’m a mom. I think about my job in context of having two little boys.”

She joined the Pace community and has already made her presence felt. She was present at the Take Back the Night event on Wed., Mar. 2, which aims to educate on sexual assault on college campuses and emphasized that she is a confidential source.

The rude awakening that was her welcome to New York was not foreshadowing, it was an introduction to her main act.


Breen can be contacted via email ([email protected]) and is a confidential source and will help anyone for any personal reasons. However, if there is a crisis need, there is a 24-hour hotline (855-827-2255).