Social Work in the Public Eye (May 2008)

Helen Cloud AustinHelen Cloud Austin, an NASW Social Work Pioneer®, was recently recognized for her contributions to Crosspoint of San Antonio through the naming of one of the buildings of the organization in her and another founder's honor. The Austin-Cullum Outpatient Center was dedicated last year.

When the John F. Kennedy Comprehensive Community Mental Health Center of 1963 began implementation in San Antonio in 1969, Austin was at the forefront of developing the city's first halfway house for patients being discharged from the local state psychiatric hospital. From serving as the first board president to holding subsequent board and volunteer positions, she helped shape the organization's status today.

Crosspoint of San Antonio is a multi-service halfway house/transition agency that served 833 clients last year.

In addition, on April 5, Austin was named a "Community Legend" by the National Coalition of 100 Black Women/San Antonio Chapter. The award cited her significant contributions to the community's needy, to the social work profession and to civil rights.

When she applied for a social work position at San Antonio State Psychiatric Hospital in the mid-1960s, she was refused due to her race. She sought the intervention of the late U.S. Rep. Henry B. Gonzales of San Antonio, who facilitated her employment. She became the first African American professional hired by the Texas Department of Mental Health/Retardation, serving at the hospital from 1965 to 1987.

NASW named her national Social Worker of the Year in 1984.

Austin is currently involved in a project to develop an assisted-living center in a predominantly black San Antonio neighborhood.


Patricia HunterThe work of Patricia Hunter was profiled in a story published in the Enterprise Record in Chico, Calif.

Hunter described how she entered the social work field to make a difference. She even instilled that value in her daughters when they were young.

"Every night at the dinner table, my husband and I would ask them what they did today to make a difference. They were young, they'd say things like they helped somebody with math. But the idea was to impress upon them they could make a difference." The story noted that Hunter has been an NASW member for 20 years.

"I am very proud to be a social worker and I hope that people will think of contacting a social worker when they are trying to navigate some of life's challenges," she said. "We value relationships and honor the strengths that people have. Our core value as social workers is to improve human relationships, or see a change in someone's life."

Hunter is an assistant professor and field education director in Chico State University's School of Social Work. She coordinates internships and teaches in the graduate program. "I develop programs — and I love teaching," she said in the article.

"I work directly with students who want to make a difference. In a time when there is such an emphasis on money and accumulating things, it's really sort of noteworthy."

Those budding social workers will have more to contend with than Hunter did at their age, because society has changed, the story stated. "There are so many needs and services are so fragmented. We have moved away from the value of a family. . . . We need to provide ways to support families to stay together," Hunter said in the story.


Iris B. Carlton-LaNeyIris B. Carlton-LaNey, professor at the UNC-Chapel Hill School of Social Work, was interviewed on North Carolina Public Radio by host Frank Stasio on The State of Things to share her personal journey on becoming an advocate for social change.

Carton-LaNey told stories about growing up on a rural farm in North Carolina and how she later realized the importance of having family nearby as a child growing up.

Carlton-LaNey is also chairperson of NASW Press Book Committee and published her book African-American Leadership with the NASW Press.

Carlton-LaNey read excerpts from her book African-Americans Aging in the Rural South on the radio program.

She explained that after pursuing a career as a professor of social work at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, her profession repeatedly led her back to her roots while helping rural farmers in their struggle for social and economic justice.

"I've always been interested in helping people with their way of life," she said about why she decided to study social work. "I've been in the profession ever since. I'm very interested in health care — particularly of elders in rural communities."


Cessie AlfonsoMitigation specialist Cessie Alfonso of Troy, N.Y., received the Life in the Balance Achievement Award from the National Legal Aid and Defender Association.

The honor was in recognition of her lifelong dedication to justice, human rights and civil liberties. She was chosen for setting an example of client-centered representation, protection of the marginalized, and tireless efforts to teach her colleagues, jurors and judges about people's diverse problems.

Alfonso was also recognized for raising the quality of capital defense representation in America and providing a model for cooperative team defense that has benefited countless lives.


Rose Dobrof (no photo), the founding director of the Hunter College Brookdale Center on Aging, received the Ollie Randall Award at the National Council on Aging's President's Reception in Washington, D.C.

The award is presented annually by NCOA in recognition of Ollie A. Randall, NCOA founder, who had a distinguished career in the field of aging. She was the first, in 1963, to receive the award that now bears her name.

The recipient is honored for "singular and outstanding contributions toward advancing the cause of aging."