Editorial: Monday mix on 100 years of social work; Cambodian charity; library gift

  • Lenira Monteiro, of Rhode Island, center, talks about making policy concerning homelessness during a class at the Smith College School of Social Work in July. To her left is Dana Joud, of Seattle, and right, Tazin Banu, of New York. The school is celebrating its centennial this summer. GAZETTE FILE PHOTO

Published: 7/15/2018 8:45:39 PM

The Smith College School of Social Work has an impressive history as it celebrates its centennial this summer, and we congratulate it for continuing to adapt its training to changing times.

“In the last 100 years, how we think about what is help — who gets to help who, what does that help look like — that has changed radically,” says Marianne Yoshioka, the graduate school’s dean. “A white-gloved community helping a less-abled community … that’s how we thought about it in those early days.”

A century ago, World War I was winding down when Smith College created a summer program that became the Psychiatric Training School to treat soldiers returning with “shell shock” — now treated as post-traumatic stress disorder. “That was radical 100 years ago — women providing psychiatric services to men,” Yoshioka says.

Now the master’s and doctoral programs train students of all genders to treat many kinds of trauma. The School for Social Work remains committed to helping those people who are most in need, with dignity.

“We certainly have in the last few years dealt with more questions about immigration, about refugees, about the ways in which a lack of mental health resources affect families and individuals,” says Marsha Kline Pruett, a professor and associate dean at the school.

At times, the school has been forced to examine its own practices and make adjustments. Two years ago, students were vocal in protesting what they described as racist attitudes within the School of Social Work.

“That protest was a pivotal moment for us,” says Yoshioka. The school since has made changes aimed at structural racism. “But that doesn’t mean we’re perfect,” Yoshioka adds. “It means we are willing to talk about and continuously work to identify it and address it and make reparations when needed.”

The School for Social Work’s local impact extends beyond the Smith College campus. Many of its graduates remain in the Valley to work, including clinicians at ServiceNet, a regional human services agency based in Northampton. Among them is Katya Cerar, who received her doctoral degree in 2013.

“I think Smith prepares us to be doing this kind of groundwork with oppressed and marginalized populations,” Cerar says. “It draws students who are interested in doing that work, and who want to stay in community mental health because that’s where the advocacy needs to happen.”

From its roots in World War I, the school continues to serve a critical need in training social workers who care for some of the most vulnerable people in society.

* * *

Alexandra “Zanny” Merullo, of Williamsburg, at the age of 20, is helping to educate students at the Sangke School in Chrung Popel, an impoverished farming village in Cambodia.

Merullo traveled to Cambodia in January, intending to stay a month, and remained until April. After returning home briefly, Merullo went back to Cambodia and, with an expatriate from Germany, founded the A&Z Foundation, which supports the school of some 500 students that had taught only two subjects, math and Khmer, the language of Cambodia.

The foundation has established Facebook and GoFundMe pages to raise awareness and money, and will donate textbooks in science, history and English to the school.

“My family is supportive because they know I’m really happy here,” Merullo says. We are certain that she is making a difference in the lives of children far from Williamsburg.

* * *

The Friends of the Pelham Library has the unexpected, yet welcome, challenge of figuring out the best uses for $575,000 from the estate of former town resident Virginia Davis, who taught home economics for many years at the University of Massachusetts Amherst.

The gift received in February “certainly floored us,” says Emily Marriott, president of the Friends group, who recently informed the community about the money. Davis, who had no surviving relatives thought highly of the Pelham library.

Until now, the Friends drew on local fundraisers and membership dues to donate between $5,000 and $10,000 annually for library services such newspaper subscriptions and children’s books.

Now, the Friends of the Pelham Library is working with the Community Foundation of Western Massachusetts to protect its substantial asset. How the money will be spent is unclear, though Marriott says, “We will definitely expand our support of the library.”


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