Joel Merritz - making a difference every day in Claremont

Joel Merritz at the Claremont homeless shelter.

River Valley CC grad follows his passion later in life for a rewarding career

Joel Merritz - making a difference in his community - and you can too - with a degree from RVCC.

It’s another frigid sub-zero day and Claremont’s emergency homeless shelter is filled to capacity. Joel Merritz, the shelter’s Emergency Housing Director is always close by as he keeps a watchful eye on his 42 clients. 

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Although the weather is brutal at this time of year, the Southwestern Community Services facility serving Sullivan County never truly has a slow season. 

There are many reasons that find clients seeking refuge at the shelter, but no matter the reason or the season, Merritz is there to help. 

As the point person at the shelter Merritz’s primary responsibility is to lend the guiding hand, compassion and trust that helps connects his clients with the right services and agencies. 

No one wants to live in a shelter,” he said, “and my role is to help each client find the spark in their life that helps them do what they need to do, to get back on their feet.” 

And while most clients find the shelter, Merritz, as part of his community outreach, drives a 15-mile radius around Claremont every day looking for those who may be sleeping in tents in the woods. 

“No one should ever have to sleep in the woods,” said Merritz. 

Although there is no official limit on the amount of time a client can stay at the shelter, Merritz is proud of the fact that he helps his clients get the help they need to be out on their own, usually in less than 60 days. 

“Every time a client leaves the shelter on a path to a better life, I hope in some small way I had a positive impact,” notes Merritz. “Every success story is because of the client. I just helped guide them.” 

Merritz, 52, has led the charge at the shelter since last April. However, his career path to his position at the shelter was a circuitous one. The Sunapee native worked a bunch of different jobs– from farming to printing to positions in the grocery business. And while he was able to make a living, none of those jobs fulfilled his deep-seated desire to make a positive difference in his community. 

“I knew that I always enjoyed helping others, and do it in a more meaningful way other than throwing change in a bucket” he said. “I had volunteered at homeless shelters and I just knew from that experience that I wanted to do more with my life and help others in need.” 

Just over five years ago, Merritz decided to pursue his dream of a career in social services and enroll in the Associate Degree program at River Valley Community College in Claremont, N.H. 

“River Valley had the program that fit me the best, because of the awesome staff, flexible schedule and online classes,” he said. “I knew within the first two to three minutes in that first class that I would be learning how to do what I wanted to.” 

In addition to a comprehensive course load that included psychology, sociology and case management, Merritz enrolled in core classes that continue to help him daily. “Every day I am thankful for the other courses I took that had nothing to do with my major – courses like critical thinking skills – that help me assess people and situations – and helped me open my eyes to things I might not have considered before.” 

Merritz took an internship at the shelter prior to his graduation, and then was hired on as its full-time Director. 

“We need more people graduating into this field of work,” he said. “There is a great need in the social services field. The more people working in this profession, the better off everyone will be.” 

RVCC is a fully accredited two-year community college providing comprehensive programs of higher education in a student-centered environment. The College offers 37 diverse associate degree, diploma and certificate programs, as well as transfer pathways to four-year colleges and universities. RVCC has three campuses in Claremont, Keene and Lebanon and the College is celebrating its 50th anniversary in 2018.

Spring 2018 enrollment is open until Jan. 15. 

River Valley Community College is one of seven colleges in the Community College System of New Hampshire, offering thirty-nine associate degree and certificate programs in Claremont, Keene, Lebanon, and Online. Financial Aid and Scholarships are available. The seven community colleges in the system are committed to working with businesses throughout the state to train and retain employees to develop a robust workforce across all sectors and embraces the "65 by 25 Initiative," which calls for 65% of NH citizens to have some form of post-secondary education by 2025 to meet future workforce demands.


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