Deja Houser

School: College of Public Health
Degree: BSW, social work, 2018
Hometown: Jersey City, New Jersey 

Deja Houser, SSW ’18, always knew she wanted to help her community, but she didn’t discover her calling as a social worker until she came to Temple. Now she educates, counsels and comforts children with hematological conditions at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP).

Deja Houser poses for a photo at CHOP.

Photography by Ryan S. Brandenberg

Heeding the call

The largest patient population she supports is individuals with sickle cell disease. When she’s not helping families who are dealing with this underfunded disease, she sees clients as a therapist and also works as a social worker supporting hospice patients and their grieving families. 

The best way to measure Houser’s workload isn’t in hours but in the weight of the emotional burden she helps her patients and clients shoulder. “I know I’m doing what I’m supposed to do,” Houser said. “I feel like I’m serving the community. It’s a calling.” 

A fateful night   

Houser didn’t discover her passion until her sophomore year at Temple. She had arrived as a pre-health major with no clear vision of her future. That began to change on a cold fall night when she and fellow members of Uzuri Dance Company—a Temple student organization—met after a rehearsal, gathered blankets and warm clothes that they’d collected, and brought them to people experiencing homelessness around the city.

“Driving around Philadelphia that night was the first time I saw the city through a social lens and thought about people’s needs and how I could help,” she said. “That was my first ‘aha!’ moment.” 
She decided to enroll in Temple’s School of Social Work and threw herself into her coursework and internships at local nonprofits Turning Points for Children and Children’s Crisis Treatment Center. For the social work program’s field practicum, a capstone experience integrating theory and hands-on skills, Houser worked 24 hours a week during her senior year at Back on My Feet, a Philadelphia organization empowering people to break cycles of poverty, homelessness and addiction.

“I was always on SEPTA, going to different homeless shelters and seeing different neighborhoods,” she said. “Those experiences began to mold me into a social worker.”

Deja Houser poses for a photo in front of the CHOP building.
Deja Houser smiles for a photo.

“Driving around Philadelphia that night was the first time I saw the city through a social lens and thought about people’s needs and how I could help. That was my first ‘aha!’ moment.” 

–Deja Houser
Hematology social worker

A passion for helping people 

At CHOP, Houser serves families facing a bewildering range of challenges. Sickle cell disease is an inherited blood disorder that causes oxygen-carrying red blood cells—normally round—to become sickle-shaped, which challenges blood flow and creates bottlenecks that can lead to pain, blindness, stroke and other complications.  

In the U.S., this disease is most common in the African American community, and funding to increase awareness, improve care and advance research hasn’t kept pace with funding for other diseases.  

“I like being an advocate,” Houser said. “I like helping patients find resources, and I like truly getting to know them. I have some kids who I’ve known since they were only weeks old. I jumped into this role not really knowing much about sickle cell, but I was determined to learn and grow. That’s exactly what happened.”