By Marla Krellenstein, MSW, Social Worker, Family Support Program
I received my undergraduate degree, got married and raised my three children. When they were grown up enough to be more independent, I was ready to get back into the workforce. Thinking about what I might do next, I thought of culinary school or social work. My husband is a psychologist, and I was always around a lot of mental health professionals, so I knew how meaningful it was to help in that way.
I went back to school and graduated with a Master of Social Work degree from the State University of New York at Stony Brook. Around that time my best childhood friend was dying from breast cancer, and I would help her out with whatever she needed. Soon after, Friends of Karen social worker Rhonda was visiting a family she was working with at Stony Brook Hospital. While Rhonda was there, she asked if the staff knew anyone looking for a job as a Long Island social worker and they recommended me.
It was amazing how this job just materialized that would bring together my experiences with my friend, my knowledge of the field through my studies, and things I learned helping in my husband’s practice.
This job has been a gift. It is now 20 years later, and it has been gratifying work that allows me to give back to help families deal with the most difficult time of their lives. When a child is diagnosed with a lifethreatening illness, it is likely the first time parents find they have no control over what is happening. Parents turn to us because they know we will be there when they need us. Friends of Karen social workers, child life specialists, and creative arts therapists have the skills and experience to know how to put families at ease and what help is likely to be needed. We do this because, ultimately, we want parents to be able to spend time with their ill child.
The COVID-19 pandemic was another unexpected turn in my life. I worked with families in person before the pandemic, which allowed me to directly observe families’ situations and needs. Now I stay connected to them virtually, and it is clear the need for the Family Support Program is greater than ever.
Every family tells me how much more difficult the pandemic has been for them emotionally and financially. I make sure they know about what Friends of Karen can do to help, and that I will be here with them every step of the way.
It’s been 20 years and I still love my job because I know the difference Friends of Karen makes. In all those years we have never turned a family away, which I think is just incredible.

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