Guam Chapter Marks 10th Anniversary

Guam Chapter membersGuam Chapter hosts awards ceremony. From left, are Vivian Dames, Claudine Tenorio, Tricia Atoigue Lizama, Arthur Barcinas.

NASW’s Guam Chapter is celebrating its 10th anniversary this year.

Former chapter president and co-founder Lisa Natividad and current chapter President Louise Toves reflected on how the chapter started and how it has grown to be an asset to the community.

Guam is an island in the western Pacific Ocean and is an organized, unincorporated territory of the United States. It is one of five U.S. territories with an established civilian government.

Natividad said the chapter started when the Guam Association of Social Workers (GASW) wanted to explore the possibility of an affiliation with NASW. A three-member group made up of Natividad, J. Peter Roberto and Lilli Perez investigated how the territory could petition for an NASW by-laws amendment request. The petitioners were able to get the necessary two-thirds vote from NASW’s Delegate Assembly in 1999, Natividad said.

She said one of the biggest challenges in the beginning was membership recruitment. “We did not want the folding of GASW and the creation of the Guam NASW Chapter to result in a division of our social work community,” she said. “We made sure to incorporate GASW’s concerns as best we could and even held a retreat to explore how to develop the chapter at its inception.”

The membership drive resulted in about 75 members. The population of Guam at the time was about 160,000 people.

Toves discussed some of the things that have changed for the chapter over the years. She said in the beginning, board meetings sometimes lasted eight hours. Today, those meetings average a more reasonable two hours, she said.

“I think that voting on issues electronically between board meetings, as well as having a more organized, efficient process keeps the meetings more manageable,” she said.

The chapter was initially located in an unused faculty office at the University of Guam, which the chapter vacated in 2007, Toves said. The Chapter’s office is now located in the capital of Hagatna, which is a more central location, Toves said.

The chapter currently has approximately 60 members today and there are around 175,800 residents on the island. Toves said the population is 42 percent Chamorro, 26 percent Filipino, 13 percent other Asian ethnicities, 8 percent Micronesian and about 7 percent Caucasian. “However, Guam is anticipating an influx over the next five years of approximately 40,000 people, comprised of 8,000 U.S. Marines, their dependents and laborers brought in to supplement the local workforce,” Toves said.

The main benefit the Guam chapter has provided is a united voice for the social work community in response to community issues, the chapter president said.

“In just the past three years, the chapter has sponsored forums in response to proposed legislation to legalize casino gambling on the island and to increase the legal drinking age, which were defeated,” Toves said. “We advocated for the needs of children with serious emotional disturbance when their access to treatment was threatened by writing a letter of support to the Guam legislature and meeting with the acting governor at the time. We also conducted a survey to evaluate the social work workforce on Guam, and commented on proposed amendments by the Allied Health Licensing Board to existing licensure requirements for therapists.”

The Guam Chapter also continues to work closely with the University of Guam’s Social Work program and serve as a resource to its students.

“There has been an increase in our student membership from both bachelor and master’s level students and they are taking an active interest in the chapter and the role NASW plays in their lives as developing professionals,” Toves said. “On a more direct level, the chapter continues to fundraise and award scholarships for qualified students attending the University of Guam’s social work program and made two awards during social work month this year.”

She noted the chapter recently decided to donate its scholarship funds to create an official scholarship with the University of Guam to benefit both bachelor and master’s level social work students, while continuing to maintain its role in facilitating fundraising to benefit the scholarship fund.

Some future efforts for the chapter include completing its social worker reinvestment initiative goal of lobbying the Guam legislature to develop a social work licensure process for Guam.

“As the new chapter president, Norma Lizama, takes office, she will not only move this forward but will work with the board to develop goals for the next three years,” Toves said. “However, the annual regional training conference remains the chapter’s flagship project.”

Toves said that in many ways, the chapter is still very young. “But with the increasing interest and support of its members, I believe the chapter will continue to develop to be the voice of social work for the island and that voice will be heard and will make a difference.”