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Pitt Social Work Intern Supports Seniors at JFCS

JFCS Senior Support from Pitt Social Work Student

Marla’s Internship with JFCS Senior Services

In Allegheny County, seniors age 65 and over make up over 16% of the population, and 39% of them live alone. At JFCS, senior support is at the core of the various social service programs, and through a partnership with AgeWell Pittsburgh and the Pitt School of Social Work, seniors across Pittsburgh are receiving individualized care. 

Marla Holland, a current student at the Pitt School of Social Work and recent intern with the JFCS Senior Services department, worked regularly with three of our seniors who live independently, visiting their homes, talking to them about their days, and providing them with company. Unfortunately, the COVID-19 pandemic interrupted not only Marla’s internship but also her in-person communication with her clients. Marla describes them as “extroverts” who thrived off of their daily interaction. She explained, “They really liked having social contact and unfortunately they weren’t able to have those regular events, and regular things they do.”

One of them, a Holocaust survivor, would go out to teach others about her lived experiences and missed being able to do this. The pandemic has affected workplaces and school settings, but has left an even bigger impact on day-to-day interactions and daily routines. Undeterred, Marla continued to reach out to her seniors on the phone, talking to them to bridge the often lonely gap many seniors across Pittsburgh felt as the city went into lockdown. 

Social Work: The Way of the Future

Marla considers her interactions with her clients as not simply a field of work but a meaningful relationship built between two individuals, which she considers the essence of social work. After starting her studies as a psychology major with a focus on working with the elderly, Marla later pivoted to specifically focus on social work with seniors and wants to battle stereotypes about ageism. About social work, she said, “It’s the way of the future,” meaning work that has an effect both big and small and that creates an eternal difference. In regards to the pandemic and current political climate she said, “If I wasn’t in social work, I wouldn’t feel as compelled to be involved as much… social work has opened me eyes to what’s going on in the world. People need help.” 

AgeWell Pittsburgh Supports Seniors

AgeWell Pittsburgh, a collaboration between the Jewish Association on Aging, Jewish Community Center, and JFCS, works to help keep seniors independent in the community for as long as possible. With over 10,000 clients and caregivers, AgeWell Pittsburgh, JFCS, and the genuine compassion of social workers like Marla have impacted thousands of seniors across Pittsburgh. This work has decreased the rate of seniors needing nursing facility care, emergency department visits, or hospital visits. 

Through the Hartford Fellowship Partnership Program for Aging Education, Marla received her internship with their longstanding partner JFCS. Marla is incredibly fond of her time with JFCS. She describes her favorite parts of her internship as being able to create meaningful relationships with her seniors and attending a caregiver support group provided by the JFCS Counseling department. Marla expressed, “I related to so many of the struggles people experienced and shared during the group.” Though the pandemic cut her time short, she continues to keep in touch with her clients, and will be missed!


By Aniya Akhtar, JFCS Communications Intern ’20