Social Work in the Public Eye (April 2009)

Marc JacobsThe positive efforts by Marc Jacobs were highlighted in a column by Julia Spitz published in the MetroWest Daily News in Massachusetts. Jacobs is chief executive officer of Jewish Family Service of Metrowest. The column highlighted the Jewish Family Service's program that helps to reduce achievement gaps, both academic and social, for vulnerable students at Framingham's Woodrow Wilson Elementary School. The school's Principal Robin Welch and Jacobs came up with the Weekend Nutrition Program, which provides free food for students and their families.

"This whole thing started last year when an anonymous donor talked to Marc Jacobs about helping families in this area," said Welch in the article.

"There's a clear correlation between academics and physical preparedness to learn," the principal said. "Hungry children are unfocused children. We're trying to remove distractions."

Some of those distractions include worrying about a family getting enough nutritionally sound meals on weekends, according to the columnist.

The Southside school has a program to provide free breakfasts to all its students, and many of its youngsters qualify for free or reduced-fee lunches. But once the school week ends, Welch worried there might be a gap for some of his children.

The program had its official launch with 10 families receiving filled grocery bags the first week, but its evolution is a natural extension of ongoing partnerships between JFS and Woodrow Wilson.

And its transition from idea to reality goes beyond a collaboration between the two men.

The seed money came from JFS board members Ellis and Barbara Morris, the article stated. A school parent, who also uses the program, is serving as coordinator. Staff members help identify families that might be in need, while keeping recipients' identities anonymous.

"We're very excited about it. It's another extension of our commitment to children," said Welch.


Megahn Lemery (no photo) was quoted on News 10 Now segment in Syracuse, N.Y., for a story about anxiety attacks.

One out of five adults has experienced a panic attack. Left untreated, one attack can turn into many and the fear of having just one more can be overwhelming, the story pointed out. Lemery, a psychotherapist, gave an example of how it feels: "Their heart starts pounding, sweating, racing thoughts." An attack happens most frequently in the car, at stop lights, and it can come on without warning.

Lemery said, "Most people get so terrified they go to the emergency room thinking that they're in full blown cardiac arrest when in fact it's a panic attack."

Panic attacks can start anywhere, a random grocery store, movie theater, even at home. Situations like financial stress, job loss, maybe a divorce can cause panic attacks, but unresolved emotional problems may also be to blame. Lemery said, "People that have grown up with some sort of emotional trauma in the past that they have never really dealt with, they have pushed down and repressed then all of a sudden they are at a stop light and they have a full blown panic attack and don't know why."

Because women are more likely to seek help, it appears that it affects them more frequently. In reality, panic attacks affect men also. Unfortunately, they don't seek help as often and tend to self medicate, the story stated.


The topic of early stage Alzheimer's disease was the focus of a story published in the Brentwood Press in California. Robyn Yale (no photo), a licensed clinical social worker who practices in the San Francisco Bay area, was quoted as a source. She pointed out that early stages of Alzheimer's are different than mid and later stages. Those in early stages of the disease are healthy and high functioning, and in many cases able to express feelings, concerns and experiences.

"At the beginning of the illness, a person is only having mild memory loss or confusion," she was quoted as saying. "Yet, it's significant enough to disrupt many aspects of life. People may find it difficult to stay at a job, or do certain things the way they were always able to do. In many other ways, however, they are able to care for themselves, communicate and be social."

Yale has made a crusade of promoting awareness and education in early stage Alzheimer's through such things as support groups, primarily through the Alzheimer's Association. "We are refuting blanket stereotypes," she said.

Focusing on the special needs of people with early stage Alzheimer's has opened a world of possibilities for families, the story pointed out. Recognizing that impairment is mild early on, there is less focus on incapacity and more on what people actually can still do. Support groups for both caregivers and care receivers go a long way toward keeping families and functioning intact.

"Support groups for people with the disease are just as beneficial as groups for family members," Yale said. "It is actually a very powerful experience: They wind up feeling less alone, getting information and emotional support, and sharing coping strategies.


Linda LawrenceLinda Lawrence was quoted in the Detroit Free Press for a story about counseling and groups who offer help to pet owners when their pet dies.

The concept of pets as family members has become mainstream, as evidenced by the success of the book and movie "Marley & Me," in which a family's story is told through tales of a mischievous dog from puppyhood until his death, the story pointed out.

It's not uncommon to hear people say they thrive on the unconditional love of their animal family members, Lawrence, a Michigan State University social worker who specializes in veterinary grief counseling, said in the story.

When an animal dies, many are unprepared for the grief they feel, and even more unprepared for friends and family who don't grasp the broken bond, Lawrence said. These issues prompted her to begin a free grief counseling group at the Small Animal Clinic at MSU, twice a month.

Her clients come from all over southeast and mid-Michigan; many bring their ill pets to the clinic as a last resort.

"I've had people tell me they miss their dog more than their husbands," Lawrence said in the article.

Brett Brouwer, one of her clients, tells stories of his dog's life like a proud parent. A favorite memory is a surprise pregnancy.

"I came home one day and there were puppies all over the floor," Brouwer said. "At the group, when you talk, you not only feel like they understand, but care."

Heads often nod, and tears flow freely as members describe agonizing decisions, symptoms and having no one with whom to share the loss of a dog, a cat or even a guinea pig.

Dr. Page Yaxley, a veterinarian, lost her dog to sudden liver failure. Even though she was training to treat animals when the dog died, veterinary school didn't teach her about loss and grief, she said.

Lawrence often joins in the group's discussions to help other members understand their medical choices were necessary and in the best interest of their pets.

"For some of these people, the animal is like a child," she said.

Many group members say they cannot go through the loss of a pet again and will not get another one. Others have a hard time bonding with new pets.