Leadership meeting brings optimism

Darrell Wheeler, Ph.D., MPH, ACSWIntensity, commitment, clarity and confidence are words that readily come to mind as I reflect on this year’s Annual Leadership Meeting and the most recent meeting of the national board of directors.

These two gatherings are critical components of the association and complement each other in purpose and structure.

While I have attended numerous NASW Annual Leadership and board meetings over the past 20-plus years, this year’s events will forever stand out in my mind and heart for two important reasons. First, and maybe the most obvious, is that I never have been — or will again have the opportunity to be — the president of our professional association.

Being in this role means a great deal to me, and having the opportunity to engage with outspoken, passionate and brilliant chapter leaders from across the country gives me even more reason to be proud of our association and to work hard for its future well-being.

The second reason this year’s events stand out for me is because of the content folded into the three days of our Annual Leadership Meeting.

The ALM brings chapter directors, chapter presidents and presidents-elect together with members of the national board and staff. A primary goal for this gathering is to bring chapter and national leadership together in support of developing knowledge and skills for association leadership at all levels.

This year, 115 of the brightest and most committed social workers representing 50 chapters came to Washington to do just that — listen, learn, support and advocate for the strength and vibrancy of our association and the profession.

On the second day of our meeting, we conducted an advocacy event on Capitol Hill. This was by no means a minor task, and I have to thank the staff of the national office for their hard work in coordinating the activities of the day.

I use this month’s column to report to you, the members of our association, that your local and national colleagues worked tirelessly to assure the concerns of our profession were heard.

Our Advocacy Day began with an early departure from the hotel and arrival on The Hill. We convened in the Rayburn House of Representatives Office Building, where we met with and heard from U.S. Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Calif., MSW; and U.S Rep. Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz., MSW. Wow! They set such a remarkable tone for the need to have social workers on The Hill who are present and prepared to advocate for the issues critical to our work and for our clients.

Their presentations were riveting and reinforced ways in which social work and social workers can, do and must be part of the political process, especially today when the stakes are so high and consequences for not engaging so dire for so many vulnerable members of our society.

Following the morning call to action by these two champions of social work in Congress, your local and national leadership joined forces and made visits to members of both the Senate and House of Representatives and on both sides of the aisle.

Armed with clearly developed and succinct talking points, materials to support our position and the confidence to achieve our goals, we spent the next several hours maneuvering across the Capitol to make as many visits as possible.

Among the key points highlighted in our visits as part of this carefully orchestrated advocacy event were: improving Medicare beneficiaries’ access to clinical social work services; support for the Dorothy I. Height and Whitney M. Young Jr.

Social Work Reinvestment Act; ensuring that social workers are frontline health providers in the Affordable Care Act integration; and support for loan forgiveness for social work students and graduates.

I cannot say that each visit resulted in a “win” for any of these issues, but I can say that as a collective body we should be proud of the impact we made on this day. We were clearly well received by the elected officials and their staff, who commented frequently on how organized and focused we were.

I would suggest that if you have not reached out to your chapter director or presidents (elect) you might want to do so and thank them for a job well done.

I wish to end this column as I began it — with a full disclosure for the honor and privilege I have to serve you and our profession at this moment. In the days and months to come, we will face many important tasks and challenges, and it is likely we will not be in agreement on all points.

However, based on this experience, I am so optimistic and invigorated to continue to give my very best for our profession and association.

I look forward to our continued work together and to seek ways of improving and strengthening the power and presence of social work.

Contact Darrell Wheeler at