PLAINFIELD, NJ - Kerri Johnson was born in Newark, NJ, raised in Linden, NJ and currently works at Homefirst Interfaith Housing and Family Services in Plainfield and Linden, NJ, as a Homeless Prevention and Housing Coordinator. On Sunday, May 17, 2015, Kerri graduated from Fordham University with her Master’s Degree in Social Work. Kerri currently has her CMSW  certification (Certified Master Social Worker Certification) and plans on obtaining her LSW certification (Licensed Social Work Certification) and LCSW certification (Licensed Clinical Social Worker certification) in the near future.

After graduating St. Mary’s High School in Elizabeth Class of 1997, Kerri began attending Union County College for dentistry but took a leave of absence when her father became ill. In 2008 she gave birth to her daughter. In 2010 Kerri decided to return to school on a part-time basis because, “I realized I wanted a better life for my daughter and myself”, said Kerri.

Kerri tried to manage working full time, raising a child and attending dentistry school but couldn’t. Kerri talked to her school advisor and was told that, with the credits she already had, she could get her Associates in Liberal Arts and after graduating Union County College, could pursue a degree in something else that could interest her.

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“Because of the dedication and time that my advisor gave me, I decided to major in Social Work”, said Kerri.  After graduating Union County College in 2012, Kerri was accepted into Rutgers University at their New Brunswick, NJ campus. During her second semester at Rutgers, Kerri applied for the social work program and got accepted.

“It was the most exciting feeling in the world”, said Kerri. “Dr. Battle, the Dean of Social work at Rutgers, and Janette Nathan, Dr. Battle’s administrative assistant, were wonderful people. I was so worried about going to school full time but with the help of Janette Nathan, she made it possible for me take some night classes rather than all in the day. I had no intention of obtaining my Master’s degree because I felt content with my Bachelors - so I thought. Dr. Battle told me “Absolutely not, you are going for your Masters and at Fordham University. You’re not stopping until you get your Master’s Degree”. He was the one who pushed me to attend Fordham University versus going back to Rutgers because Fordham University is known for its diversity with adult working population. With that advice I applied for Fordham University and was accepted and started in September of 2014. I attended Fordham University in New York faithfully on a Saturday from 8:50 am to 5:30 pm and one Wednesday night a month for 9 months to obtain my Master’s degree.” 

It was during her time at Rutgers University that Kerri first learned about Homefirst in Plainfield, NJ. Kerri had been raising her child and working fulltime at Rahway State Prison as a dental assistant and needed to find an organization, as part of her internship requirement, that would work with her schedule. 

“My field liaison started looking for organizations and came across Homefirst, Inc. in Plainfield, NJ. Homefirst was having a Kids/Teens Club and I thought to myself, “Hmmm, Kids. I don’t think that’s for me”, but it worked with my schedule and what a success it turned out to be. I didn’t do a traditional schedule of 7-8 hour days, 2 days a week like my other classmates; I came to Homefirst 4 days a week after work to obtain my internship hours”.  Kerri went on to say that, “The Executive Director of Homefirst saw that I was willing to do and try whatever I had to do to keep going. She asked me if I’d be willing to come back the following year, while I attended Fordham University, to continue the internship. I returned in September of 2014 .”

When Kerri returned to Homefirst  she worked in the field of homeless prevention and supportive housing. Within two months Kerri was offered a  job at Homefirst – which she accepted .

“Homefirst is a great place. I think I fell in love with Homefirst because of the staff and I was able to obtain first-hand experience by interacting with the clients . You can go to school and learn all the terminology, but when you’re sitting with a client, it’s different from what you learn in school. Some clients live alone and when they have someone that will listen and talk to them, they just let [everything] out. We engage and have really great conversation and I don’t mind that.  I am by no means a therapist yet, but humanity is the best gift of all. My parents raised me into the person that I am  today and to treat each individual as I want to be treated. It’s a great feeling being a social worker and even better when you can just touch someone and they appreciate it; vice versa. You can’t even explain the greatness of it all. Sometimes I go home and just think “WOW, I did that”.

Established in 1986 in Plainfield,  NJ Homefirst delivers comprehensive solutions to homelessness by providing transitional and permanent housing, homeless prevention assistance and family support services.  Working with a diverse coalition of partners, including community groups, religious congregations, foundations, businesses, nonprofits, government agencies and volunteers, Homefirst is a leader in Central New Jersey  in assisting families experiencing homelessness and in preventing homelessness.  Homefirst uses innovative national models to give families the tools and the resources they need to overcome adversity and develop self-sufficiency. The agency builds strong communities – one family at a time.  For more information on Homefirst please visit Homefirstinc.org.