Devoted Pioneer Chan Dies at 79

— Lyn Stoesen, News Staff


Diana Ming ChanDiana Ming Chan, a California social worker and NASW Social Work Pioneer® who in retirement devoted herself to increasing the number of school social workers in California public schools, died Aug. 5, 2008. She was 79.

Chan and her husband Clarence donated more than $1 million over the past seven years to the NASW Foundation's Learning Springboard Endowment. The Endowment was established in 2000 to promote social work in San Francisco by placing professional social workers in the public school system.

"When I first met Diana over 10 years ago, I knew there was something special and wonderful about her," NASW California Chapter Executive Director Janlee Wong told the News. "She had a vision of school social work that I knew she would get accomplished."

"Through a determination that was always graceful, she is truly responsible for leading the effort to get a school social worker or social work intern in almost every school in San Francisco," Wong said.

In a column in the NASW California News, Wong described Chan as "one of those social workers who worked hard and effectively but never called attention to herself."

"Hundreds of children and families, many of them Chinese and immigrants, benefited from her prevention and treatment efforts in the San Francisco schools and communities," Wong wrote.

Chan earned her MSW from the University of Minnesota. She began her career directing youth and family programs and helped break cultural barriers as a Cantonese-speaking Chinese MSW in San Francisco's Chinatown. She trained social workers in clinics, churches and other nonprofit organizations and advocated for the recruitment and training of social workers of color during the civil rights and War on Poverty eras.

She taught at City College of San Francisco, San Francisco State University and in community agencies and public schools. She also worked as an educator at the Shun Tin Children and Youth Center in Hong Kong.

Chan retired in 2000, after decades of work as a social worker with children and families, including work as a school social worker. That year, the Chans established the Learning Springboard Endowment through the NASW Foundation, pledging $1 million toward the program. The Chans more than fulfilled the pledge with a final donation of $230,000 in 2007.

In 1978, California's Proposition 13, which reduced property taxes, led to major budget cuts in the state's school systems, including the elimination of positions for many school social workers who worked with children experiencing barriers to successful achievement. Through the Learning Springboard Endowment, the Chans have helped reverse the trend and rebuild the school social work program within the school system.

In his NASW California News column, Wong wrote that Chan was "very gracious, a gifted artist and dancer, but ever the organizer and leader. Her home was the setting for many a social work meeting with great food, great ideas, plans and actions."

"It was Diana's will and determination to greatly increase the number of school social workers in San Francisco schools and she did just that," Wong wrote. "Forming a movement, working with coalitions and applying her own personal resources, nearly every school in San Francisco now has a school social worker or social work intern."

"Diana Ming Chan used her experiences, her passion, and her resources to impact people's lives in a very direct way," said NASW Foundation Director Robert C. Arnold. "Without her commitment and the contribution from the Chans, many students would not have had access to needed services."

"She understood the importance of addressing problems before they reach a crisis point," Arnold said. "Her work to establish social workers in schools is a wonderful testament to her true belief in the power of social work. She will be greatly missed."

She was elected to the California Social Work Hall of Distinction and to the ranks of the NASW Social Work Pioneersw.

She is survived by her husband, Clarence, and their son, Harrison Leong.

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