December 2011 Features

Profile: Noreen Hall Papatheodorou, MSS ’58

photo of Noreen Hall PapatheodorouBy David Volk

Noreen Hall Papatheodorou, M.S.S. ’58, doesn’t want you to have a nice day; she wants you to make one instead.

That may seem an odd sentiment for a social worker, but Papatheodorou isn’t your average social worker. As founder of Foundations of Wellness, an organization in Florida that’s teaching resiliency in children, she has long encouraged diabetes sufferers and people with chronic conditions to take charge of their own lives.

“I believe in empowering people, helping them find the power that is within themselves to make choices and decisions that can enhance the quality of their living,” Papatheodorou says.

Papatheodorou understands the issues involved because she’s had diabetes since the 1940s. In fact, she gave up her dream of becoming a pediatrician when her doctor, a woman, advised against it because she felt the stress of being one of the few women in medical school would affect her health.

Since she wanted to work with children, she chose clinical social work.

In keeping with her philosophy, she views unexpected curves in her career path as positive even though she doesn’t know where the turns are taking her.

“Wherever I am at a given time, the seeds are being planted even though I’m not aware of it. One of the things that has helped me on my yellow brick road is that I have always been willing to be open,” she said.

Indeed, her condition and interest in children led her to become an adjunct faculty member at the University of California-Los Angeles where she pushed for a more holistic team approach to managing diabetes.

Her openness got her involved in film projects, too. She went from unsuccessfully consulting with a pharmaceutical company that wanted to do a movie on children growing up with diabetes to consulting, facilitating and editing for the educational filmmaker Pyramid Films.

After years of focusing on chronic disease, she has turned to her current project at Foundations of Wellness. There’s been so much interest in the internet-based program that she’s already received requests to do it in other languages and may end up doing a book.

Papatheodorou credits Bryn Mawr for the flexibility that got her where she is.

“Getting the educational experience I got at Bryn Mawr enabled me to go with the flow, if you will, because I was willing to remain open and accepting. I was willing to be a risk taker.”