My dear, beautiful mother, Joan, passed away this past Sunday afternoon, August 16, after fighting lung cancer. She was 81. She was my best friend, my best editor, and my reason for living. I miss her more than words can express.
Everyone who knew and loved my mom knew she was an incredible human being. I’m heartbroken that she’s left me, and I’m trying to just get through each new hour without her gentle eyes and warm smile. She was the life and light of our family and her leaving has left a void that hurts unbearably, as she was always much younger than her years would ever suggest.
To honor her, we are creating a scholarship in my mom’s name for bachelors and masters students in the School of Social Work at Rutgers University in Camden and New Brunswick, New Jersey.
Rutgers is my mother’s alma mater, and she was a most non-traditional student. She enrolled in college when she was 58.
We’ve created the Joan Geraci Memorial Scholarship so other wonderful human beings like my mom can fulfill their dream of becoming a social worker…without waiting 35 years to do so.
Having stopped her education at the eighth grade in Mt. Ephraim, New Jersey, mom began working to support herself in Philadelphia in her teens and married her husband, Samuel, in 1954 when she was just 19. They soon settled in Bellmawr, NJ, right outside of Philadelphia. After watching John F. Kennedy make a speech about volunteering in the early 1960s, mom decided she wanted to be a social worker. But it was not to be, for more than three decades.
After raising four children and while caring for her husband Sam during a long illness (my dad passed away on Christmas Day in 1997, a few months before their 43rd anniversary), mom started college to become a social worker at age 58. She soon earned her bachelors, and went on to earn her masters in social work at Rutgers University in Camden, New Jersey at age 64.
Mom had a successful decade-plus career as a full-time social worker, working with juvenile sex offenders, incarcerated youths, displaced children and troubled families throughout Camden County. She has many “success stories” who have better lives today due to their regular sessions with “Miss Joan” — most poignantly a little child named Brittany who mom helped escape a very troubling life in foster care. Mom considered little Brittany to be her most special “success story,” and though she was not allowed to contact Brittany after she left mom’s oversight at age 8, mom thought of her often. Brittany would now be in her late teens, and is one of many children and adults who remember the caring, patient, tireless woman who became her friend and protector and port in a storm in an unkind world.
When she stopped working full-time in social work in her mid 70s, she still continued helping many people end addictions, leave abusive relationships and find resources to care for needy or sick loved ones. Most passionately, she encouraged–championed–anyone who wanted to further their education. She helped many young and older people enroll in community colleges, trade schools, four-year universities and masters programs.
We’ve created this scholarship so that mom might continue to touch lives in this way.
We approached her with the idea of this scholarship for students majoring in social work just a few days before she passed away. She liked it very much. When asked whether the scholarship should focus on non-traditional students aged 35 and older, or be available to all students, her answer was clear even though her voice was quite weak. “Open to everyone,” she said.
Each year, the Joan Geraci Memorial Scholarship will help a deserving student at the Rutgers University School of Social Work in Camden or New Brunswick earn their BSW or MSW with a little less burden. Mom struggled financially to complete her college education in her late 50s and 60s. She couldn’t afford books and had to borrow teacher’s editions and photocopies. It took her many years to pay off her loans. Through her scholarship, we hope to help students seeking a career dedicated to helping others struggle just a little less than she did in the years they spend earning their degrees.
The yearly scholarship will start at $4000 and will grow over time, as the Fund grows. We plan to award the first scholarship in the fall of 2016.
If you knew mom, you know there is so much more to say here. (We are talking a woman so indefatigable, she once found a way to phone the baseball manager of the Dodgers, Tommy Lasorda, in the dugout during a live game to request a signed photo of 1960s-era pitcher Sandy Koufax for me. It arrived by FedEx the next day.)
Even though mom has been taken from me, her love and compassion and courage remain as vivid as ever in my life.
If you might briefly consider making a donation to her scholarship fund, I’d be eternally grateful. Donations can be made online with Gofundme.com at www.gofundme.com/joangeracimemschol, or the old-fashioned way by sending a check payable to “Joan Geraci Scholarship Fund” to TD Bank, 129 South Black Horse Pike, Runnemede, NJ 08078. (The donation will also be accepted at any TD Bank location.)
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