NASW Foundation names eight new Pioneers

The NASW Foundation has selected eight new Social Work Pioneers® who it says serve as role models for future generations of social workers.

Pioneers’ contributions are reflected in every aspect of the profession — such as the establishment of social policies and human services programs, according to the Foundation. They are also, of course, social workers themselves. The Foundation’s Pioneer program honors those social workers who have participated in evolving and enriching the profession.

The eight new Pioneers are Kathleen Ell, Marilyn Flynn, Sol Gothard, Martha Kendall Holmes, Jessie Donaldson Hodder, Julia Norlin, June Simmons and Kenneth Wedel.

Kathleen EllKathleen Ell

Ell is an Ernest P. Larson professor of Health, Ethnicity and Poverty at the School of Social Work at the University of Southern California, and has been a faculty member there since 1980. She has a lifelong commitment to improving the health and well-being of people facing serious and chronic illness, mental health conditions, low-income and poverty, discrimination on account of immigrant or ethnic minority status and other obstacles to receiving quality health care.

She was awarded the NASW Knee/Wittman Award for Lifetime Achievement in Health and Mental Health Practice in 2013, and her pioneering approach to social work research and advocacy in health care has continued and expanded since the early 1970s.

Marilyn FlynnMarilyn Flynn

Flynn is the dean of the School of Social Work at the University of Southern California. Her long established career has included roles in education, advocacy, research and administration and she is motivated by her concern for the well-being of people, particularly those affected by poverty and inequality. Flynn’s interest in international issues led her to become the first woman to lead a delegation to the closed city of Tomsk in Siberia, following the fall of communism.

This delegation, plus others that she led in Hungary, were part of a project funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development to assist local leaders in learning how to develop social policies in their communities.

She also secured a $5 million endowment to expand infrastructure and grants in the Hamovitch Center for Science in the Human Services at the USC School of Social Work. In addition, Flynn started the first online MSW program at USC and created the first military social work specialization in a major civilian research university.

She is the recipient of the NASW Foundation’s International Rhoda G. Sarnat Award.

Sol GothardSol Gothard

A traumatic childhood had an impact on longtime NASW member Sol Gothard throughout his career as a social worker and a judge, and he has championed the important role of social work in the judicial and criminal justice systems. After receiving his MSW in 1957, Gothard attended law school at the Loyola University School of Law in New Orleans while working as a probation officer and then assistant director of probation in the Orleans Parish Juvenile Court.

Gothard eventually became senior judge in the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals for the state of Louisiana, where he remained until retiring in 2005.

Gothard strongly advocates forensic social work — which is the application of social work to law and legal-related questions and issues.

The National Organization of Forensic Social Work recognized him for protecting abuse victims and improving the legal system to which they are entrusted.

NASW’s Louisiana Chapter elected Gothard Citizen of the Year, and he received the Alfred E. Clay award for significant contributions to children by the Children’s Bureau of Greater New Orleans.

He is a past president of the Louisiana Council of Juvenile Court Judges, and is the current commander of the New Orleans Post of the Jewish War Veterans of America.

Martha Kendall HolmesMartha Kendall Holmes

Holmes, who died in 2011, demonstrated her commitment to helping prematurely born children and supporting effective policies, practices, services and programs that help them.

She was recognized nationally and internationally as an expert on neonatal and infant transition issues.

She showcased the impact of social work and skills in neonatal care and was instrumental in establishing the second Newborn Individualized Development Care and Assessment program in the U.S., which is developing globally.

Holmes’ work and contributions have helped children have a chance of a normal life. She was a founding member and national secretary of the National Association of Perinatal Social Workers from 1980 to 1983, and a founding organizer, president and board member of the Oklahoma City Parent’s Assistance Center. She also served as an NASW volunteer leader throughout her career.

Jessie Donaldson HodderJessie Donaldson Hodder

Hodder passed away in 1931. An Ohio native, Hodder received some of her early training in social work at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston, where she worked from 1907 to 1911 and provided assistance to unwed mothers and women suffering from venereal diseases.

Jeffrey A. Mifflin provided a letter of support for Hodder to be in the Pioneer program. Mifflin, archivist and curator at Massachusetts General Hospital, wrote that Hodder continued her pioneering efforts as superintendent of the Massachusetts Prison and Reformatory for Women.

Hodder humanized the prison environment, encouraging women and girls to undertake productive work alongside education and recreation. She instituted reforms at the prison that encouraged inmates to learn practical skills for succeeding in the workplace.

As an esteemed prison reformer nationally and internationally, Hodder helped further women’s correctional reform through presentations, research and writing.

Julia (Judy) Mitchell NorlinJulia (Judy) Mitchell Norlin

Norlin’s contributions to the social work profession include several national and state leadership roles, a teaching career spanning 31 years, research roles and even a stint in radio.

In 1963, a National Institutes of Mental Health grant — forerunner to President Kennedy’s Community Mental Health Act — gave Norlin the opportunity to pioneer an aftercare outreach radio program.

The program, called “Let’s Talk,” helped discharge patients from the four state hospitals in Oklahoma who needed referral information.

She began her academic teaching career in 1970 while working on her Ph.D., which she completed in 1979. Norlin served as president of the Council on Social Work Education from 1989 to 1992.

She has received several awards during her career, including the Distinguished Service Award by the Oklahoma Health and Welfare Association; the Medal of Honor by the Association of Baccalaureate Social Work Program Directors; and the 1968 award for Outstanding Young Woman for the state of Oklahoma.

June SimmonsJune Simmons

Simmons is the CEO for the Visiting Nurse Association and Partners in Care Foundation in Southern California.

She has extensive social work practice experience in the areas of health, mental health, hospice and palliative care. She works to promote quality health care, linking social work’s role and skill sets to improve health outcomes.

A California native, Simmons was the first MSW hired at Huntington Memorial Hospital in 1972. She expanded the social work presence at the hospital, creating programs that still exist, including the Senior Care Center.

She received the 1988 Society for Hospital Social Work Directors Ida M. Cannon award, and the 1988 Eleanor Clark Award for Innovations in Patient Care from National Hospital Social Work Directors. Simmons also served as SHSWD president from 1983 to 1985, and is the CEO of Partners in Care Foundation, a position she has held since 1997. She was led to pursue social work after working at the Los Angeles YMCA, and received a scholarship from the staff to cover her tuition.

Kenneth WedelKenneth Wedel

Wedel is the former director of the School of Social Work at the University of Oklahoma and professor emeritus. He has conducted and been involved in research programs on behalf of Native Americans and Indian children, foster children, domestic violence preventive services, education and training, welfare reform, contracting and transportation policies in rural areas. Wedel was also appointed as the first coordinator of the newly established Knee Center for Strong Families at the Anne and Henry Zarrow School of Social Work at the University of Oklahoma at Norman.

For more information the NASW Social Work Pioneer® program, visit