NASW Announces National Award Recipients

NASW recently announced its annual national awards program recipients.

Among those selected by the NASW Board of Directors and the Awards Committee are a social work professor whose extra efforts continue to help those in the Latino community; a retired director of a youth association who has received national recognition for a model program; a retired U.S. Marine who is striving to support the rights of gay and lesbian citizens serving in the Armed Forces; and a civic leader who utilizes her social work skills to ensure that those in need receive vital government services.

National Social Worker of the Year

Elvia Krajewski-JaimeElvia Krajewski-Jaime is a social work professor and director of the graduate program at the School of Social Work at Eastern Michigan University. The Organization of Latino Social Workers (OLASW) nominated Krajewski-Jaime because of her efforts to improve programs affecting those in the Latino community. Her work has included addressing health care gaps and the needs of the elderly and promoting cultural competency in health care practice.

After being hired by Eastern Michigan University in 1985, Krajewski-Jaime became involved in the Latino community. She visited many agencies in southwest Detroit in an effort to unite the university’s resources and improve services for families.

She brought much needed resources to the Latino community through her excellent research and writing skills as well as grant development experience. Krajewski-Jaime, who is also director of the Center for the Community Building and Civic Engagement at EMU, has been a past president of OLASW. She made presentations at annual conferences and was a role model for Latino advocacy efforts such as immigration reform. OLASW staff said Krajewski-Jaime was instrumental in establishing an education exchange program that takes social work students to Mexico.

“These experiences enhanced the cultural competence of our students as well as Mexican social work students,” OLASW staff said.

Another nomination letter stated, “We need more folks like Elvia who come into our community but stay beyond their research to collaborate with community staff and consumers to make an improvement in the lives of our people.”

National Lifetime Achievement Award

Vendella BarnettVendella Barnett recently retired after 32 years of service to the Neighborhood Youth Association (NYA) in California. She got her start with NYA as a college intern. Barnett received her master’s degree in social welfare from UCLA in 1975. Following graduation, she became director of NYA’s outpatient adolescent drug treatment program. In 1990, she was promoted to deputy director and in 2003 became executive director. Around that time, she received a grant from the Office of Justice and Juvenile Delinquency Prevention to create NYA’s Personal Best Program, a life-leadership program for youth at risk. It currently serves as a national model, according to nomination materials.

Barnett’s rich history with NYA will “have a lasting impact on the community,” said Faye Mandell, a social worker who has known Barnett for 32 years. Under Barnett’s leadership, more than 3,000 children and youth have been served in the last decade by NYA. Through the organization, more than 100 scholarships were granted to at-risk youth in the past 24 years. Of those grantees, 98 percent graduated from high school and 70 percent went on to trade schools or college.

Barnett has also mentored social workers over the years as a field instructor. She was chosen to serve on the faculty advisory board for the UCLA School of Public Affairs and was a key organizer of the Troubled Youth in Troubled Times conference hosted by the University of Southern California, which focused on challenging issues and work in the youth development field.

Barnett has been honored by the Los Angeles Commission for Children, Youth and Families with the Angels Over L.A. award and by the City Council of Los Angeles with a Certificate of Tribute for outstanding citizenship and activities enhancing community betterment.

Public Citizen of the Year

Eric AlvaEric Alva is a retired U.S. Marine staff sergeant who has been striving to improve the lives of gay and lesbian citizens who serve in the Armed Forces. Alva made a major commitment when he decided to join in the effort to repeal the U.S. military’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy, which prohibits gay or bisexual servicemembers from disclosing his or her sexual orientation or from speaking about any homosexual relationships. While serving on the first day of Operation Iraqi Freedom in 2003, Alva lost his right leg above the knee, part of his index finder and experienced severe damage to his left leg and arm after stepping on a land mine. During his rehabilitation, he decided to spend the rest of his life as an advocate and counselor for the disadvantaged and disenfranchised, according to nominating materials.

Although Alva was considered a hero to many Americans, if the military had known that he was gay, he would have been discharged under the current policy, said Joe Solomonese, president of the Human Rights Campaign (HRC).

Following his recovery, Alva agreed to publicly disclose his sexuality and donate his time promoting the repeal of “don’t ask, don’t tell,” including testifying on Capitol Hill. Alva earned a bachelor’s degree in social work and is studying for his MSW, according to HRC.

Public Official of the Year

Laura ChickLaura Chick, controller for the city of Los Angeles, has led a massive effort to uncover dysfunctional programs and potential fraud in city government.

An institution that conducts itself openly and honestly is vital to obtain the trust of those it represents, said Adine Forman, director of Government Affairs and Special Projects of Jewish Vocational Services, a community-based organization created to serve adults and youth in its community who are in need of employment and training assistance. Forman said Chick is a worthy example of how critical it is for social workers to play an important role in government.

In nomination materials, social worker Janice McCall said Chick maintains a steadfast commitment to mentorship and leadership, particularly for young professional women. UCLA Associate Professor Alfreda Iglehart said Chick reached out to the UCLA Department of Social Welfare by expressing an active interest in working with social work students.

“She was clearly committed to nurturing future social workers and involving them in public policy,” Iglehart said. Fernando Torres-Gil, acting dean and professor of Social Welfare and Public Policy at UCLA, said Chick has “used her social work training and her values and principles in bringing a new legacy of transparency and honesty to city government.”

NASW national awards recipients will be honored locally.