When Temmi Merlis graduated from NYU Silver in 2012, she decided to take a break. But her break didn’t last long. After sending off resumes she soon landed her first social work job at the Blue Card Fund, an organization dedicated to helping provide financial support to Holocaust survivors.
In June 2015, Merlis was featured in the New York Times’ Vocation section; in the profile, she explained how her own family was affected by the Holocaust. In 1938, when her grandmother was 10 years old, she escaped from Nazi-Germany to the United States. Merlis was drawn to working with with survivors because of her family’s history. Merlis observed, "Holocaust survivors have been through some of the most horrific things but they are still struggling." She continued, "Many are destitute and have to choose between medication and food."
Today, Merlis is a social worker at Odyssey House, a residential treatment program for those 55 and older struggling with substance addiction. She conducts 8 support groups a week and facilitates seminars and psycho-educational groups. She performs individual counseling conducting biopsychosocial for clients in crises.
Merlis said that she always felt a connection with older people and loved to hear their stories. "Many elderly are pushed to the wayside, but they deserve to be listened to and have their needs met,” she said. "They have so much isolation and you can see their pain even though they try to hide it."
Merlis said that older adults respond well to therapy, but that they often don’t have resources available to them or believe that they can’t feel better. "I find that a lot of elderly clients are very receptive and waiting for someone to care and feel that they could actually succeed," she said. "Part of what we do at Odyssey House is help them realize it is worth it to find happiness and give them the peace they deserve."
Working with the elderly and in addiction can be very taxing so Merlis makes sure to practice self care as much as possible. In her free time, Merlis enjoys playing sports and the guitar at open mics around New York City. "Listening to yourself and taking care of yourself is a big part of being able to providing the best services to others," she said.
When looking toward the future, Merlis is unsure of where her career may lead but said it’s important to be flexible. "Our careers may end up in a different population even though we go into school with a very firm idea of what we want to do," she said. Working with the elderly has been very satisfying to her. "It’s definitely something that resonates with me, but who knows where the road will lead. I have an open mind but this is an area where I can be helpful right now."
By Jose Alvear, MSW ’16