we are all threatened. My social work degree allowed me to find the common ground,” says Alterman.
Kari Alterman, MSW ’97 Kari Alterman thinks back to her decision to attend the U-M School of Social Work with bittersweet memories. As a U-M undergraduate from the Detroit area, she recalls discussing her interest in law school while visiting with a 17-year-old seriously ill cousin named Evan Shapiro. “My wise young cousin pointed out to me, ‘Do what you love and you’ll never work a day in your life,’” says Alterman. A light went on in Alterman’s head—it was her work helping others as a counselor at Camp Tamarack that caused a loving, warm glow within her. The next step was applying to U-M’s Project STaR program, which combined social work with Jewish communal service, and she was admitted. Her passion was tested by the challenge of taking 18-20 credits per semester, yet she graduated with an MSW and a certificate in Jewish Communal Service in 1997. Her third field placement with the Jewish Federation of Detroit subsequently became her fulltime job for eleven years. For the past three years, Alterman has served as the director of the American Jewish Committee in Detroit, representing the Jewish community to the outside world. “When one minority is threatened,
winner in 2007 because of her work as a community leader in the Detroit area. She also co-teaches a course at the University of Michigan with Professor Barry Checkoway on neighborhood development. Regarding the future of social work, Allen sees social work in its current state as being inclusive of many approaches and believes that the next step is to combine these approaches in a more cohesive way. She also believes that it will be crucial to prepare social workers to become more involved in public policy, to change public- and private-sector practices to be more beneficial to people and communities at large.
Alterman continues to flourish from U-M’s Jewish social work curriculum, but now as a lecturer, not a student. “As a guest lecturer in the program’s Wednesday night seminar, I have the opportunity to know students, and I’m amazed at their intellect, passion, and thoughtfulness.” The demands on social workers have increased since she was in school, Alterman says. “In community organizing there is more focus on understanding the nuts and bolts of running a business.” To meet job requirements, she observes that there are now more duel-degree graduates—students combining their MSW with an MBA or a JD. Sadly, Alterman has never been able to share with Evan how he affected her life. Evan died in 1994 at 18 from Ewing’s sarcoma, a rare and aggressive form of cancer, just after being admitted to his own dream college, Harvard. But Alterman is philosophical and feels that Evan would be very proud of her social work contributions.
“It’s all part of tikkun olom—Hebrew for the Jewish directive to ‘heal the world,’” says Alterman. She says that Rabbi Tarfon, a Jewish biblical sage, expressed this best when he said, “It is not your obligation to complete the task, but neither are you free to desist from it.” —Debbie Eisenberg Merion, MSW ’78, is a writer and writing coach in Ann Arbor.
tations about what we can achieve collectively. When we do that, we can change how society operates.” —Amber Michele Gray is a freelance writer living in Ann Arbor.
When asked about the School tagline, “reach out— raise hope—change society,” Allen had this to say: “As a profession, we cannot be insular. We have to think bigger and broader than our own particular clients, and as we do that we should be raising expec-
Ongoing Winter/Spring 2011