— Heidi Sfiligoj, News Staff
Throughout the past year, the NASW Communications Department has produced Web page profiles during different heritage months of social workers of each heritage. The profiles can all be found on the HelpStartsHere.org Web site.
The first profiles debuted between Sept. 15, 2008 and Oct. 15, 2008, during Hispanic Heritage Month. They received so much interest that profiles continued to be produced during Native American Heritage Month in November 2008, Black History Month in February 2009, Asian/Pacific Islander Heritage Month in May 2009 and, most recently, LGBT Heritage Month this June.
Profiles of social workers who are Native American, Hispanic, African American, Asian Pacific Islander, as well as those from the LGBT community, are included on the site. In the profiles, the social workers discuss why they joined the profession and the challenges to serving their various communities.
The groups had varying motivations for joining the profession. For example, a number of those who submitted Hispanic profiles said they naturally gravitated toward social work because they were translators for their family and neighbors who did not speak English. Blacks, more than any group, cited the influence of their church and the church's community service as a reason for considering social work. Native Americans said a strong sense of community, volunteerism and wanting to help Native Americans led them to the profession.
Several Asian-American social workers noted that they sometimes had to go against their family's wishes for them to enter a different profession, such as a physician or a lawyer.
"Several Asian Americans cited this phenomenon and no one from the other groups did," said Theresa Spinner, NASW senior Web communications associate.
LGBT social workers, more than the other groups, said one reason they were inspired to join the profession is because they were helped by a social worker when they were struggling with issues surrounding their sexual identity. The LGBT group also had the highest number of social workers as second-career professionals.
Joe Vanny Perez, a social worker in New York City who submitted a profile in celebration of LGBT pride month, joined the U.S. Army after graduating high school on a short contract of three years active duty and five years of inactive (reserve) duty.
"Needless to say, after I completed my initial training, I was sent to Iraq to support Operation Desert Storm in 1990-1991. It was there that I witnessed the cold brutality of war," he wrote. "It was then that I realized my calling in life was to help people, not hurt them. After witnessing the ravages of war firsthand, I knew that I needed to find a profession that would allow me to help people overcome their personal challenges and misfortunes and not cause them additional harm."
Prior to each heritage month, Spinner e-mailed an invitation to submit a profile to the respective group members. A large portion of NASW members list their minority status on their application, and a spreadsheet of NASW's minority members was also created.
"I hope people who read these profiles see that there are many tremendous social workers in the profession today," said Spinner. "I hope minority consumers who are looking for a social worker to help them will realize that they can find someone like themselves."
Spinner said the profiles helped NASW learn about a wide variety of outstanding social workers. "We might not have been aware of some of them otherwise," she said.
Eric Kamba, an African-American social worker, and Rodney Haring, a Native American social worker, were invited to join NASW committees and they agreed. Others have agreed to become media spokespersons for the organization.
"The profiles have given our minority members a moment in the 'spotlight.' We know that a large portion of visitors to the site are people considering becoming a social worker," Spinner said. "This project allowed minorities who are thinking about getting an MSW to see that there are others in the field like themselves."