Awards Presentation Honors Achievers

— Lyn Stoesen, News Staff


The NASW Foundation held a reception and ceremony on Feb. 1 to honor the recipients of the 2007 Knee/Wittman Achievement Awards as well as the recipient of the 2007 NASW National Lifetime Achievement Award.

Teresa DeCrescenzoBetsy S. Vourlekis was recognized with the Knee/Wittman Lifetime Achievement in Health and Mental Health Practice award, Teresa DeCrescenzo (upper right) received the Outstanding Achievement in Health and Mental Health Policy Award, and Dorothy V. Harris was honored with the NASW National Lifetime Achievement Award during the event, held at the Cosmos Club in Washington, D.C.

The evening opened with welcoming remarks from NASW Executive Director and NASW Foundation President Elizabeth J. Clark, who recognized the NASW Social Work Pioneers®, chapter executive directors, national board members and NASW staff who were in attendance.

Award namesake Ruth Knee, who served as host for the evening, also addressed the gathering, noting the "professional and caring contributions" of the award recipients.

DeCrescenzo has long been recognized as an icon in the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community. She founded Gay and Lesbian Adolescent Social Services (GLASS), a not-for-profit agency that provides comprehensive services for youth, particularly those who identify as gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender who live in out-of-home care. GLASS has grown to include more than 150 employees.

DeCrescenzo received her MSW degree from the University of Southern California and now teaches at California State University, Northridge.

In her comments at the ceremony, DeCrescenzo said that the current presidential campaign "demonstrates how incremental social change is" and that she is "heartened by the fact the next president could be a woman or a person of color."

She spoke about her own experiences in working with gay and lesbian adolescents and addressed the ways that gay and lesbian people have been viewed over the decades. She noted, for example, that still today, people can be dismissed from the military based on their sexual orientation.

"Social change is slow," DeCrescenzo said. "It matters that you honor me. You honor all of the fallen children and the brother and sister social workers who came before me."

Betsy S. VourlekisBetsy Vourlekis has contributed to social work research and practice on the national and international levels and has had a career spanning many areas. She worked as a psychiatric social worker, a field instructor and a faculty member at the University of Maryland. She was also a member of the NASW national staff as director of health and mental health.

In her comments, Vourlekis noted that Knee had "taught me just about everything I know," including sharing her valuable expertise in navigating federal bureaucracy and influencing public policy.

Vourlekis addressed the changes in approaches to social work practice over her career. She described the 20th century as "tumultuous," but noted that the profession grew and prospered.

She concluded with three broad questions for the future of the profession, including examining the roles and titles of emerging specialists in psychosocial services; what educational strategies will best harness the potential of social work students who may not be well-prepared; and how "increasingly robust research" can be connected with diverse practices.

She said the "paramount puzzle" facing the profession in the 21st century is how to "overcome the poverty of imagination and embrace newness."

The Knee/Wittman Awards Program was created in 1989 to recognize social workers who have made significant contributions in the field of health and mental health and who represent the values, ethics and approaches exemplified by Knee and Milton Wittman.

Dorothy V. Harris Following the presentation of the Knee/Wittman Achievement Awards, NASW President Elvira Craig de Silva presented Dorothy V. Harris with the NASW National Lifetime Achievement Award, which had been announced last fall [September 2007 NASW News].

Harris has been a leader in child welfare initiatives that focus on improving child welfare systems. She is senior vice president for special projects on children, youth and families for Pal-Tech, Inc., in Arlington, Va. She served as president of NASW from 1985 to 1987.

In her comments, Harris expressed "immense pride" in sharing recognition with DeCrescenzo and Vourlekis "as they're recognized for their outstanding work." She said she had had "many jobs but one career" and has "no greater pride than to be referred to by the title 'social worker.'"

Harris discussed highlights of her career, addressing in particular her work with Head Start, which she noted was the most successful program of the War on Poverty. She also expressed gratitude for the opportunity to be involved in changes to the child welfare system while she served as NASW president, working with then-Executive Director Mark Battle.

She said receiving the National Lifetime Achievement Award was the "true capstone of a long career."