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Life Experience Leads to Passion

Through her life experience, Meri Etzwiler found her passion.  She wants to be able to make a difference in others’ lives who may be struggling.  Etzwiler is a human and social work services student at North Central State College.  “I want a career where I can see that I matter to people,” she explains.  “I want to see people improving with smiles on their faces and help make a difference.  It’s important to me.”

Etzwiler has struggled with mental health issues, including substance use disorder, since she was a teenager.  She experienced a lot of tragedy, including the death of her sister.  She felt her life was spinning out of control and began using alcohol as a coping mechanism.  “I never learned any positive coping skills, that is where things hurt me in my life.  I didn’t know how to deal with stress and trauma,” Etzwiler says.  Now in her 40’s, she wants to help people learn that help is available.  That’s why she chose to study human and social work services.  “I want people to know they are not alone.”

Human and social work services is a profession that focuses on helping children, adolescents, and adults with a variety of needs, such as mental health, substance abuse, physical disabilities, and more.  Graduates with an associate degree can be certified as an assistant social worker through the state of Ohio.

Etzwiler tried college several other times before finally finding her place at North Central State College.  While visiting the college as a job shadow with Opportunities for Ohioans with Disabilities, I stopped in the TRiO office.  “I didn’t know programs like that existed for students, especially students like me.  It made me realize that if there is this kind of support here I could go back to school and I can graduate.”

The TRiO Student Support Services program provides a variety of educational support services for first-generation students, low-income and/or students with disabilities.  The purpose of the program is to increase college retention, graduation and transfer rates for eligible members.

“I have been through a lot on my own and I have always been able to relate to counselors and social workers who helped me through tough times,” Etzwiler says.  “I know there are some challenges where I will have to be able to separate my experiences from the experiences of my clients.  I feel like those life lessons have helped me empathize and understand what others may be going through.  I know the difficulties people face.  But I know I can’t solely rely on my experiences, that’s why it’s incredibly important to get the education so I can help others in the right way.”

She says she feels comfortable talking to others as a peer but she is looking forward to learning more about the technical side of social work and human services.  She wants to learn as much as she can about being a professional clinician and to work as a member of the treatment team.

“I have two main instructors that are in human and social work services department, Molly McCue and Christine Lynch.  I consider them to be the utmost professionals and I feel fortunate that I get to learn from them,” she says.  “I feel like after I finish my studies, I can contact them and ask for guidance and advice.”

Etzwiler will graduate in the spring of 2021.  She is currently working on completing her chemical dependency course and will be eligible to get a certification for a chemical dependency counseling assistant.  She is planning on continuing her education following obtaining her associate degree.  “I am excited about getting into the field and making as much of an impact as I possibly can on others’ lives.”