Sherry Parrish, M.S.W., ACSW, LCSW-C
I remember sitting in Grace Harris’ home as a student, just feeling this immense positive and creative energy and knowing without a doubt that social work was the thing for me. But that wasn’t really a surprise. After all, my mother was a welfare worker, and the first paper I ever wrote in ninth grade was on social work.
I guess social work just comes easy for me — not because the work isn’t challenging, but because sometimes I think choosing the right path means figuring out what’s “wrong” with you and then finding the place where that’s “right.”
So, what’s wrong with me? Well, my boundaries are low, my barriers are almost nonexistent, I’m a little nosy and I like getting close to people. All of that’s right for social work. Because I’m comfortable with people, and I’m not afraid to step into their lives a little, they allow me to be a part of whatever it is they’re going through, which is an immense privilege.
For a long time, I thought social work might take me into the field of juvenile justice, but when I took my first job as director of social work in a nursing home, I saw how rich working in the medical field could be.
Right now, I’m the director of resident life at one of the largest continuing care retirement communities in the country. As I began to take on more administrative duties in my career, people would tease me and say, “I thought you were a social worker.” Well, I am.
What I do every day is social work. It doesn’t matter if I’m taping a television segment, teaching a class on memory fitness or helping a new resident transition into our community, because across all age groups, across all settings, what’s most important is empowering the person in front of you. If I can leave an individual better prepared to face their challenges, make the changes they want to see in their life and share what they’ve learned with others, then social work becomes almost like a wafer at church. You break it and share it so that many can be nourished.
This is why I’m a social worker.
Sherry Parrish grew up in West Virginia with a mother descended from coal miners and railroaders and a father descended from Syrian merchants.
After earning her M.S.W. degree from the Virginia Commonwealth University School of Social Work in 1976, she became the director of social work at Stratford Hall Nursing Home in Richmond, Va., and has gone on to work in hospital and nursing home settings in Tennessee and Maryland. She currently works as the director of resident life at Erickson Living Communities – Charleston Retirement Community in Catonsville, Md., and as a field instructor for the University of Maryland’s School of Social Work in Baltimore.
As an expert in geriatric social work and aging-related and retirement issues, Parrish has hosted 12 episodes of “What’s Next?” — a nationally syndicated program that received a regional Emmy Award in 2008 — and has made multiple TV appearances on the Retirement Living Television Network, the “Today” show and “Good Morning America.”
She has twice been nominated for the Social Worker of the Year award from the Maryland Chapter of the National Association of Social Workers and was named an NASW Social Work Pioneer.