March is National Professional Social Work Month, and using this year's theme of "Social Workers Inspire Community Action" as a springboard, NASW is planning to showcase 100 "community action heroes": social workers who have inspired community-wide change.
In addition to its internal efforts, NASW is asking individuals to nominate social workers who have created a program or led a campaign to meet an important human service need in their community. Specifically, NASW wants to know what the nominee did to organize people, resources and allies to improve the lives of individuals in their community or the nation.
Individuals filling out the nomination form must provide their name and contact information and the name and e-mail of the nominated social worker; a description of the campaign, program or organization that they lead; the community served by their efforts; and the impact that their contribution has had on the community.
"By highlighting 100 community leaders, we aim to demonstrate how social workers are integral parts of all communities," said NASW Communications Director Gail Woods Waller. "Unfortunately, the general public's understanding of social workers' contributions and services remains limited. We need to keep social work successes in front of people."
"Heroes" already on the list include Dennis Sutton, CEO of the Children's Home Society of West Virginia. In recognition of his efforts to improve the lives of adopted and foster children, Sutton was named a 2007 "Angel in Adoption" by the Congressional Coalition on Adoption Institute in Washington.
Also making the list is Reclaiming Futures National Program Director Laura Burney Nissen. Leading the initiative through conceptualization, demonstration and dissemination, she and the staff of Reclaiming Futures are helping communities throughout the country help teens overcome drugs, alcohol and crime.
Joining Sutton and Nissen on the list is NASW Social Work Pioneer Helen Cloud Austin. In the 1960s she founded San Antonio's first halfway house for patients discharged from the local state psychiatric hospital. She went on to become a leading mental health advocate in Texas.
"There are so many social workers doing good things in their communities," said Woods Waller. "Although we can't showcase all the stories we expect to receive, we hope the 100 selected profiles will help more people understand the incredible impact social workers have on peoples' lives every day."
As with previous celebrations of National Professional Social Work Month, the NASW communications department is providing a media and community outreach toolkit, available on the association's Web site. Along with the community action hero nomination form, the toolkit contains ideas for how to promote the profession using public education tools such as interactive Web sites, letters to the editor, school presentations, social media, videos and more.
"More people need to be exposed to positive and actionable information about the social work profession," said Woods Waller. "The toolkit contains everything social workers need to promote the good work they are doing, and the value of social work to our nation."
New to the toolkit are tips to help social workers educate consumers about social work, change the portrayal of social work in the media and introduce students to the social work profession.
According to the NASW Web site, the White House officially recognized National Professional Social Work Month in 1984. From 1984 until 1998, NASW selected a social issue to promote every year. From 1998 to 2004, Social Work Month themes promoted the profession with general campaigns about who social workers are and how they benefit society.
In 2005, NASW launched the National Social Work Public Education Campaign, a multi-year effort to improve the public perceptions of social work. Since then, NASW has coupled a specific area of practice with general promotion of the profession.