Posted by Jeremy Pittenger on February 14, 2014
The power of transformative learning and the passion to be a child advocate has led Erin Merryn, MSW ’09, on an inspirational mission-driven journey. She is the voice behind Erin’s Law, which requires school districts to teach prevention-oriented child sexual abuse education to elementary school students, teachers, administrators and parents. The law has been passed in nine states with legislation being introduced in 26 others.
After experiencing abuse as a young girl, Merryn set forth on a path to protect children. At the age of 12 she decided to become a social worker, and in 6th grade wrote of going to college to pursue a social work degree and becoming a writer. She has done just that, having earned her bachelor’s and master’s degrees in social work and recently having authored her third book, An Unimaginable Act. In it, she writes of walking across the AU Commencement stage on a beautiful spring day to receive her diploma despite being told by some adults as a child that she would never be accepted into college. Her writings and advocacy work have garnered much attention with Merryn being honored at Glamour magazine’s 2012 Women of the Year Awards and recently being profiled on the Oprah Winfrey Network.
“I discovered what mattered most in my life and that was my mission to protect children from a life of sexual abuse,” said Merryn. “I built my life mission to go out there and give children a voice by passing a law to protect and educate them and the professionals. I’ve followed my passion, and I encourage everyone else to listen to their heart and do the same.”
Merryn credits the MSW degree she earned at AU with helping her relate to the different kinds of people she meets through her advocacy efforts, including legislators, professionals in the field and other survivors. And while pursuing an advanced degree was a challenge, she knew it would be worth the effort.
“I’m so glad I didn’t allow the idea of finishing my master’s scare me away,” she said. “I knew if I stayed grounded and focused it would help me in the big picture. To students who feel it might be too overwhelming, I was able to pursue my degree, intern at a high school, and write and publish a book all within the same time. You just have to be disciplined and dedicated to your work. If you give it the effort, you will be successful.”
While Merryn studied school social work, she began to realize that she could use her skills on a larger scale advocating for Erin’s Law across the U.S. “I’m now speaking to people around the world about child abuse prevention,” she said. “So if you are that student who dreams of opening your own business, or of a career that lets you travel the world— go after it, and don’t let anything stop you.”