When Wendy Goidel, JD, saw her clients needed more than legal expertise, she created a unique program that helps older adults and their families while providing valuable experience in gerontological social work to graduate students.
Wendy Goidel, JD, is on a critical mission—one that benefits students in Adelphi’s Master of Social Work (MSW) program while raising the bar on the delivery of services to older adults and their families. “There’s an alarming shortage of social workers trained to assist the aging population,” said Goidel. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, one in five Americans will be over the age of 65 by 2030. Her passion is palpable and her commitment evident at her Melville, New York, practice, Goidel Law Group PLLC, as well as in the Goidel Gerontology Fellowship for Social Work she developed and established at the University to encourage and incentivize social work students to pursue gerontology.
Now in its second year, the fellowship—the first of its kind in the state—is designed to support Adelphi graduate social work students in exploring and choosing gerontology as a career path. Participants receive a stipend of $2,000, take three electives that focus on issues related to older adults and attend colloquia with guest speakers in the field. Goidel is pleased that eight MSW students are currently taking advantage of this unique opportunity and hopes that as word of the fellowship spreads, it will soon reach its maximum capacity of 10. Goidel selects one fellow each academic year to intern in her practice’s Estate Planning and Elder Law Center, where they work alongside a licensed clinical social worker. A holistic, interdisciplinary practice model developed by Goidel, the center’s “Concierge Care Coordination,” as Goidel calls it, provides comprehensive, compassionate services to individuals and families by integrating elder care needs with legal planning.
Pairing Social Work With Legal Expertise
Goidel said she’s been “on the soapbox to increase awareness of gerontology as a social work specialty” for years. “It is extremely rewarding work and career opportunities in the private sector are growing as our population ages.” She has had a social worker on her staff since 2015 and hosted social work interns over the years, many of whom had little awareness of gerontology as a specialty. She decided to create and fund the fellowship at Adelphi due to its outstanding reputation in the field and was pleased at the School of Social Work’s eagerness to implement the program.
Joanne Corbin, PhD, dean of the School of Social Work, said, “New York state has one of the highest populations of older adults in the U.S. Wendy’s attention to the needs of this population is timely, and the School of Social Work is enormously grateful for her commitment and involvement. This fellowship engages social work students who may not have considered working with older adults. The coursework, together with the internship experience under the instruction and mentorship of Wendy and Connie [Wasserman], provides the students with highly specialized knowledge and skills to serve this growing population. “Goidel noted that increasing the number of social workers trained in meeting the needs of older adults will have a positive impact across all sectors, noting that her elder law practice often works with clients and their loved ones who are facing a diagnosis of dementia or other neurodegenerative disease, chronic illness, physical debilitation or other situation that requires quickly accessing appropriate support services, meeting caregiving needs and managing finances. “By having both social work and legal expertise in-house, we’re able to hit the ground running,” said Goidel. “We’re able to address immediate needs like the client’s safety, while developing an appropriate care plan and helping the family navigate through complex and daunting processes and systems involving services and finances. Our team is able to relieve a lot of stress for individuals and families at a very difficult time in their lives.”
Connie Wasserman, a licensed clinical social worker, has been a geriatric social worker for almost three decades and director of Concierge Care Coordination at Goidel’s firm for two. “It’s a privilege to be part of the collaborative model that Wendy has created here, merging social work with legal practice.”
Goidel, Wasserman and the Goidel Gerontology Fellowship for Social Work interns meet with clients who are in crisis and use their professional expertise to problem solve, help get services into place and provide emotional support. Wasserman says the graduate students “bring new perspectives” to every situation and that she learns from them as they learn from her.
A Unique Opportunity for Social Work Students
This year’s fellow, Jeanne Edme ’22, was unaware of opportunities in gerontology until last year, when she heard Goidel speak of the fellowship and how social work is integral to her elder law practice. Edme was particularly moved by Goidel’s example: an 80-year-old client was single, eccentric, a recluse and an extreme hoarder. Due to various circumstances, he was in danger of adult protective services taking control over his home, his assets and essentially his life. Edme learned how Wasserman was able to work with this individual, understand the emotional issues surrounding his predicament and put a plan in place to keep him as independent as possible.
Edme was delighted to be chosen to work alongside Wasserman in Goidel’s office this year. “I’m learning so much and really enjoy interacting with the clients, visiting with them in their homes, making them feel listened to and heard, and seeing how appreciative they are,” she said.
Last year’s intern, Golnoosh Ghatri, MSW ’23, said, “Working in a law office serving this special population is different from any other social work environment. It’s a brilliant idea, and Wendy and Connie couldn’t be more passionate about—and dedicated to—their work.”