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The helping profession: Recognizing the vital role of social workers

Alicia Colombo

By Jay Nachman

As PCA celebrates both Women’s History Month and Social Work Month in March, we recognize the women who have devoted their personal and professional lives to serving older adults. Here are three of their experiences.

Nancy Morrow is committed to improving the lives of older people. “As a social worker, I‘ve been able to do that at many different levels throughout my career,” she said proudly.

After graduating from the University of Pennsylvania with a master’s degree in social work, Morrow began her career working with older adults on a one-on-one basis in individual and group counseling.

Following that, she worked in more administrative and programmatic roles, including director of protective services at PCA and executive director of the Pennsylvania Care Management Institute. For the last 30 years, she’s worked as a consultant and trainer for many social service agencies, including PCA and the Supportive Older Women’s Network (SOWN). She also teaches aging policy at the University of Pennsylvania in the School of Social Policy and Practice.

Through her work, Morrow instructs current and future “social workers about older adults and the wonderful field of aging.” She enjoys teaching social workers about working with older people and encouraging them in their social work careers to think about aging as a field of practice.

“I’ve always had a personal mission to increase the interest of social work students in the area of aging because I found it to be such a satisfying, rewarding career,” she said.

Mary J. Fallon recently retired after 20 years as the executive director of the Unitarian Universalist House Outreach Program, which supports people 60 and older in achieving independence, dignity, and quality of life in their homes and communities. She spent her entire career in aging services, including PCA, where she was a student intern in 1980 and worked as assistant director of placement services in the early 1990s.

“So many older people feel shunted aside,” Fallon said. “I think people underestimate the value of just sitting with someone and really actively listening to them and being sincerely interested in their welfare and the outcome of the interaction.”

In describing the satisfaction that her work brings, Fallon said, “I’ve seen people who just thought, ‘well, nobody is going to help me. I may as well not even call anybody. I don’t even know who to call. I’m just so stuck.’ Then when somebody, like a worker from PCA or Unitarian Universalist House, reaches out and actually tries to help them, they’re just astonished.”

While the profession is vital to the community and extremely rewarding, Fallon admits social work is also a challenging field.

A study by the National Association of Social Workers reported “gender-based pay inequity remains a persistent problem for social workers and other female-dominated professions.” Another report noted “women … experience biases inside and outside of the profession” and that “social workers are tasked to examine roles, equity and fairness not only in the profession, but within society and with the women they serve each day.”

Nonetheless, “if you are somebody who is sensitive and motivated to try and help, social work is a way to make a real difference because you make a difference in people’s lives in a way that other professions don’t,” said Fallon, who holds a master’s degree in gerontology from University of Pennsylvania.

Cheryl Clark-Woods has worked at PCA for 25 years and currently serves as director of the agency’s caregiver support program. But whenever she is asked what she does, Clark-Woods proudly asserts that she is a social worker.

“I don’t say I’m the director of the caregiver support program,” said Clark-Woods, who has a master’s degree in social work from Temple University. “I say I’m a social worker because that’s really what I identify myself as. That’s my commitment within whatever role I’ve had. I find it rewarding working directly with people who need help. Social work is a helping profession, and a lot of people go into it for that reason. It’s really helping people directly with what their situations are and helping them connect to things that may improve the quality of their life.”

Jay Nachman is a freelance writer in Philadelphia who tells stories for a variety of clients.

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