Change is good, but can be challenging

Darrell Wheeler, Ph.D., MPH, ACSWThis year, and particularly this summer, has been full of enormous changes in my life professionally and personally.

Central to the many professional changes is my recent relocation to a new position in New York state, as dean and professor of the School of Social Welfare at the University at Albany, SUNY.

Change as a rule invigorates me, but I must admit that this summer was full of so many co-occurring changes that I found myself at times buzzing not with excitement but just questions about the changes made and the impact of these on my life and the lives of those around me.

In my work with NASW this spring and summer, we took on exciting work to consider changes in organizational structure.

The goal of this work was to closely examine the structure and function of our association and its viability for today and the future, to enhance the attainment of mission and goals and provide cost-efficient services.

From the outset, this seemed like an appropriate task as we celebrated our 60th anniversary year. Many other professional associations and organizations across the country and the world are also being tasked to look at their structures and viability — so our work is validated.

In collaboration with the chairs of the councils of chapter presidents and chapter executive directors; the national board; the modernization and revitalization workgroup; and national office staff, we embarked on a rigorous process of examining our association’s current structure.

Among the areas of focus were national and chapter board composition, administrative relations between chapters and the national office, branding and collaborative marketing.

What an amazing experience this was. I learned so much more about the phenomenal talents and resources in our organization than I could have imagined. Likewise, I learned more about the challenges facing not just our association and profession but many others also struggling with similar concerns.

The issues of fiscal viability were certainly important topics, but equally important were the opportunities to engage members across the country in frank discussions about values, perceptions, reciprocal duties, management and supervision, chapter functions and many other crucial elements that go into making our association such a powerful vehicle for the professional positioning of social work at the national and local levels.

The culmination of this tremendous effort came during the June national board meeting when the reports and summaries, critiques and presentations were put before us, and a vote was taken to consider actions that would modernize and revitalize our association.

While the services to members are not being altered, we agreed that the ways in which we deliver these services at the chapter and national levels had to be evaluated with an eye toward future association strengthening.

The board used every bit of this information to deliberate and consider the implications of any vote on the whole association and its future. I am pleased to say that while this process was at times challenging, it was a rich opportunity for our association to demonstrate how a democratic process can be used effectively.

I write now to truly thank my colleagues from across the country for the tremendous work and effort you put into this process. I also acknowledge the challenges ahead, and express my gratitude for your unwavering commitment to our profession and association.

In the coming months, NASW members will have many more opportunities to hear from association leadership about the new and innovative ways we will collectively move forward as one association.

Contact Darrell Wheeler at