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Retired clinical social worker creates fund for continuing education

July 26, 2010|by TIFFANY ARNOLD
  • Sylvia and Bill Hunsberger, a former director of social work at Brook Lane Health Services, have created the William and Sylvia Hunsberger Fund through the Community Foundation. The fund supports continuing education programs for Brook Lane staff.
By Joe Crocetta/Staff Photographer,

For Bill and Sylvia Hunsberger, part of happily living out retirement means helping Bill's fellow mental health professionals.

"I know what it's like to be on the front lines," said Bill Hunsberger, 74, from his air-conditioned cabin paces away from his historic Leitersburg home, while his wife, Sylvia, 73, sat nearby.

Bill Hunsberger is the former director of social work at Brook Lane Health Services, a mental health facility in Leitersburg. Seven years ago, he and his wife created the William and Sylvia Hunsberger Fund through the Community Foundation.

The fund supports continuing education programs for Brook Lane staff.

"Bill's been very generous to us," said Kay E. Hoffman, Brook Lane's director of development.

Hoffman said the Hunsberger fund has helped host several professional development programs at Hagerstown Community College. The next session is scheduled for Sept. 24. Generally, professional development opportunities for mental health workers would have meant taking a trip to Baltimore or Washington.

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"This helps a great deal," Hoffman said.

It all started in 1961, when Bill Hunsberger began as a clinical social worker at Brook Lane, where he would spend the next 16 years of his career.

Hunsberger left Brook Lane in 1978 in order to form Antietam Psychiatric Associates, and has since retired.

Part of the mental health field, Hunsberger said, is taking continuing education courses to maintain your license. Plus, as a young professional, "you don't really know how much you have to grow," Hunsberger said.

Hunsberger grew up in College-ville, Pa., and was the youngest of three. His father was a dentist and his mother was a housewife.

Hunsberger attended Franklin and Marshall College and went on to graduate school at University of Pennsylvania. He said he had naive ideas about what it meant to be a clinical social worker after he left school. He recalled having high caseloads in the beginning at Brook Lane, when there were fewer clinical social workers on staff.

"I thought it was like being a salesman - convincing people to do things differently, then they'd be OK," he said.

"These first 10 years of being a social worker are where I grew professionally and socially," Hunsberger said.

Today, things are more complicated for mental health professionals, much of it attributable to insurance-related paperwork and other red tape. Today, insurance companies want a treatment plan up front and set the number of appointments that they'll cover. Hunsberger said that it used to be that therapists were the ones who decided when and how to carry out the treatment.

In the end, he said it meant higher costs for patients.

The Hunsbergers been married since 1958 and have two sons.

While her husband's passion is mental health, Sylvia Hunsberger's is wolves. The couple take a yearly trip to Yellowstone National Park to help place radio collars on wolves.

"It's really sad when they die or get killed," Sylvia Hunsberger said.

After retirement, Bill Hunsberger went into real estate, using the money from real estate deals as seed money for the fund. He said Brook Lane is entitled to use $5,000 - 5 percent - of the fund each year.

"I always had a soft spot for Brook Lane," Hunsberger said.

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