HEBREW NAME: Alisa
CURRENTLY LIVING IN: Wakefield
ALMA MATERS: Swampscott High School ’00, Northeastern University ’04, Simmons University ’08 (master’s degree in social work)
FAVORITE FOOD: It’s a tie between Chinese and Mexican
FAVORITE MUSIC: Chris Stapleton, Dave Matthews
FAVORITE MOVIES: Comedy, anything with Will Ferrell
FAVORITE BOOKS: Anything that Jodi Picoult writes, narrative non-fiction – I love learning about peoples’ lives.
FAVORITE TV SHOWS: I don’t watch a ton of TV.
FAVORITE TRAVEL DESTINATION: We vacation and travel to Western Mass. and the Berkshires – that’s always been home away from home, where I grew up summering, and I’ve been doing it with my family now.
PLACE YOU WANT TO GO TO NEXT: Greece
FAVORITE JEWISH PERSON NOT IN YOUR FAMILY: Jerry Seinfeld
FAVORITE JEWISH HOLIDAY: Rosh Hashanah
WHAT WAS YOUR JEWISH BACKGROUND GROWING UP?
I was raised in a Conservative Jewish family. I grew up in Swampscott, we belonged to Temple Israel early on, and I was bat mitzvahed in I don’t know what year now. I am the daughter of Izzi Abrams [the current Jewish Community Center of the North Shore president] – at that time, she was running the preschool at the JCC, so I spent the majority of my childhood growing up as a child of someone who worked at the JCC. And I was attending K-8 at Cohen Hillel Academy, so I was up on “The Hill” the better part of my early years. After I got out of Hillel, [I went to a Hebrew] High School, so I would attend Hillel after hours … it was almost a Jewish high school extension, and I did that with the people I graduated Hillel with.
IS IT STILL A PART OF YOUR LIFE NOW?
I’ve figured out a way to incorporate my childhood and what I was exposed to early on. I’m currently living in Wakefield, where there’s less of a Jewish community – however, I’ve found my way into Temple Emmanuel of Wakefield, I’ve connected to the rabbi as well as other families in this community. I’m in an interfaith marriage, and the Wakefield and Swampscott and Marblehead community has been welcoming. We found our way together, and we have two daughters, and we’re learning how we’re gonna do this, and what makes the most sense. It’s a lot of taking slow steps.
CAN YOU TALK ABOUT BEING A SOCIAL WORKER WITH VETERANS?
I’m a licensed independent clinical social worker. I graduated Simmons College [which became Simmons University in 2018] in 2008 with a master’s in social work, and I started working at the Bedford VA Medical Center in 2011. I started off in a certain role with high-risk, chronic, suicidal veterans, which was a really tough job, and I transitioned in 2014 to working with post-9/11, newly returning veterans that are coming back from deployments in multiple different places, moving from all across the country to come to Massachusetts for college. They’re utilizing their education benefits, which are from the post-9/11 GI Bill. The VA started a program in 2011 called the VITAL, which stands for “Veterans Integration to Academic Leadership.” I’m the manager of the program in Bedford, and a manager of a team of psychologists and social workers that goes out and provides on-site interventions for student veterans to ensure that they have everything they need to be successful in the college setting. It’s not an easy transition most of the time – veterans need some connection – making sure that they are linked into whatever services they’ll receive, so we are the front line of resources when they’re getting back in this civilian world.
WHAT ARE SOME OF THE CHALLENGES THE VETERANS FACE?
It’s a variety of things. The base challenge is really figuring out how to be a student, and how to get comfortable in a setting where there’s a lot of times younger people. They’re older, they’re already past the age of a college student coming back, so they’re trying to figure out how to be in the same setting as someone with a different level of maturity in a classroom setting. Definitely the structure’s very different than in the military, so the schedules definitely look different in terms of when you need to get up, need to get to class. And obviously any mental health conditions they might be dealing with is a struggle in the classroom, if they’re having difficulty focusing and staying present during the day.
WHAT CAN WE DO TO HELP VETERANS?
Just listen, and get to know veterans in a way that you understand what they think is useful for them and their communities. Often, we prescribe certain things to people, and everyone can say, ‘This is what you should do, and this is how you should do it,’ and what I learned along the way is that allowing the client to give feedback on what they think they’d benefit from. I think that often, we push things that don’t work. We should listen to what they need from themselves – that’s the key to getting them to a better place that’s more connected and engaged.