When Leah Fein was a child, she lived with her grandmother, who was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease and her great uncle, diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. Leah remembers, “They helped me understand the impact of support and autonomy on quality of life for older adults.” In high school, Leah volunteered with older adults at a hospital in Philadelphia and in college, interned with a nursing home transition program. After earning her BSW with a focus on ageing at the University of Pittsburgh, she worked for two years with low-income older adults, arranging in-home services, medical care and hospital and nursing facility discharges.
“I saw the difference it made if someone could age at home rather than in a facility,” Leah says. “I loved the direct practice experience, and I developed reciprocal relationships with my participants, which improved my own knowledge.” Leah wanted to go for her master’s in social work and in public health. “I wanted to be involved in an interdisciplinary team focused on advocating for adults’ self-determination and autonomy towards end of life, while also supporting disease management at home. It’s about your ability to maintain control and maintain a sense of purpose throughout life transitions. Often we take all that away from older adults unnecessarily.”
Leah was able to come to the University of Michigan thanks to a Dean’s Scholarship. “Those donors are the reason I am here at U-M,” Leah declares. “They have empowered me to reach my goals. I knew Michigan Social Work could challenge me and give me opportunities to make a real impact on issues I care about, but without my scholarship I would not have been able to come here. I remember the moment I got the email. I was with a participant. I told him, and he was so happy for me!”
Soon after arriving at our School, Leah had a revelation. “I thought I might focus on macro social work,” she says, “but I missed direct practice. So, I sent out some emails and connected with an older adult in a local nursing facility who needed help with discharge planning, so I have been working with him. It was nice to find out so fast that I needed to maintain my practice. This is one of many reasons Michigan is a great school. There are so many opportunities here! Every experience has added more and more to the person I am. And with this degree I can finally make the difference I want to make. I hope one day I can give back to other students who need support.”