Chestnut Hill Local: Graham ’81M Commits to Full-Time Service

June 22, 2012

Chestnut Hill Local recently profiled Mary Ellen Graham ’81M, president and executive director of My Place Germantown, Inc., an organization that provides permanent supportive housing for disabled and formerly homeless men. Graham earned a Master's degree in English from Arcadia University in 1981 and has taught at all levels from seventh grade through graduate school. She is the 2011 recipient of the Mayor’s Commission on People with Disabilities of the City of Philadelphia Access Achievement Award, as reported by contributor Louise E. Wright.

While full-time coordinator of the writing center and tutorial services at Chestnut Hill College, Graham had what she refers to as “a conversion kind of experience.” Poet and social advocate Edwina Gateley, a speaker at the college’s International Women’s Day event, so inspired Graham that she volunteered at Philadelphia’s Women of Change, a shelter for the homeless. “It sounds hokey,” she admits, “but then I wanted to leave academia in order to serve the poor full-time.”

Graham’s background in education worked to her advantage. Intent on hiring someone with a fresh perspective, Mercy Hospice offered her a position in case management. So it was that, at an age when many folks contemplate retirement, Graham embarked on a new career.

Graham refers to her time at Mercy as “my internship. The hospice sent me to every conceivable training available in the city.” Of her work there, she declares: “I took to it immediately. It was just a natural fit!” Those who sought refuge at the hospice benefitted from Graham’s fresh perspective for, in addition to her case management duties, she offered group activities in writing and literature. “The women loved it!” she beams.

After a stint at Bethesda Project, Graham retired. A year or so later, however, she “got itchy,” as she puts it, and began working at a health center, an outreach of her parish, Germantown’s St. Vincent De Paul. Her experiences there gave birth to the idea of My Place Germantown.

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