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Q&A: ElderNet’s Marisa Ferst


About ElderNet: We started as a service that tries to keep people in their homes for as long as possible. Then we started offering social work and care-management services, as well. We have two licensed social workers who make home visits and ensure the places where people are living are safe—that they’re not at risk for falls, there’s no insects or mold, and the water is running. There are more needs around here than people think. 

Favorite local eateries: Carlino’s Market and Marrone’s Pizzeria. I was raised Italian, and I absolutely love those two places. My husband grew up here, and Marrone’s has been his favorite pizza place since he was a kid. Now we take our family there all the time. Carlino’s just has wonderful, authentic Italian food. 

The perfect date night: We’re really casual. We love to go to Hymie’s Merion Delicatessen for the cabbage soup. Our first date was at Tango—we go back there and sit in our special booth. We love to go to the movies at the Bryn Mawr Film Institute. It’s such a gem. 

Best chance of getting stuck in traffic: I always have the hardest time going through Suburban Square at the turn where Ruby’s is located. It drives me absolutely crazy.  If she had 30 minutes to herself, she would: Take a nap—because I have a new baby. 

From left: Hymie’s, Marrone’s Pizzeria.

Why she does what she does: We were blessed to have a lot of resources for my grandmother. And I recognized that, in this area, there are a lot of people growing older and living alone, with nobody there to help. I saw how attached people are to their homes. A lot of people grew up here, and they don’t want to go to a nursing home. 

The best thing about living on the Main Line: There’s more and more diversity coming in, which I appreciate. I happen to be very close to the city, and I love being able to zip in and zip out. I absolutely adore all of the old, historic homes around here. Just driving through it, you see it’s a beautiful place to live. 

From Left: Tango, Bryn Mawr Film Institute

Her day-to-day responsibilities as ElderNet’s executive director: I oversee all the programs and manage a staff of seven. I work with the board in doing the fundraising and the grant writing. All of our services are free, so we don’t have any income. Everything we do, we do through fundraisers, grants, newsletters. 

How most people come across ElderNet: We get a ton of referrals through local faith-based communities, Bryn Mawr Hospital, Lankenau, doctors offices, families and friends. We work with Lower Merion police. They have us on call 24 hours a day. 

A story that’s stuck with her: We received a call from a police officer who wanted us to check on an elderly woman. Someone had broken in through her window. The police went to fix the window, but she didn’t want to let anybody in. She had some mental health issues, and she’d become a really big hoarder; she’d made a fortress out of her things, to protect her. When she finally let me in, it was the dead of winter. She had no heat, electricity or running water. I called on Lower Merion Township for help. We were able to put her up in a hotel for two weeks, and the township went in there and helped clean her house, get her heat back on, and get the living conditions back to where it was a safe place. 

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