Social work leaves lasting impression

Darrell Wheeler, Ph.D., MPH, ACSWIn the past few months, I have had new and wonderful opportunities to experience the profession from a unique perspective.

Having been an NASW member for many years, I was confident I knew our profession — and the talented, critical thinkers and doers that constitute our membership.

However, as I dive into my duties, I am in awe of the strength and reach of our profession and the impact we make on the world in which we live.

On the international front, we are members of a global network of committed practitioners working tirelessly for social justice. This was so much a part of my experience during the International Federation of Social Workers meeting in Melbourne, Australia, in July.

The challenges presented during the discussions and deliberations are not for the faint of heart. Whether it is human trafficking, migrating youth in crisis, community development or political advocacy, social workers are there making our voices heard, but more importantly transforming the impact of those voices into demonstrable actions and outcomes.

Social workers across the globe are taking on these challenges, sometimes with immediate and striking outcomes, and in other instances with stealth and fortitude needed for the long-term engagement and incremental change.

Regardless of the field of practice or the locale, I was keenly aware that we all shared common traits and knowledge that spoke volumes about our profession and the importance of what we do.

Back here in the U.S., I again had a unique and tremendous opportunity to bask in moments of “social work splendor.” (For those of you who attended NASW’s 2014 conference in July, you will appreciate that this is not too much of an exaggeration.)

The conference — themed courage, hope and leadership — was probably one of the most powerful gatherings of my professional peers, colleagues and pioneers that I have ever experienced.

From our opening session to the closing farewells, the power and strength of this profession were palpable. Not only did the national staff pull together an all-star headline of keynote speakers, but also the entire content of the conference exuded the character and strength of social work.

Nearly 2,000 professionals gathered in Washington, D.C., to share in this event. And I must say, it was my absolute pleasure to be part of this experience and to take to the stage as your association president. The conference theme was repeatedly demonstrated in sessions small or large.

There was a call for us to be courageous in our work; to be hopeful in our efforts; and to be leaders in the struggles for social, economic and political justice.

Lastly, I want to share some of my experiences related to the 2014 Delegate Assembly, which was held on Aug. 2.

This virtual meeting is, as you may know, a core part of the association’s policy agenda-setting body. This year was a particularly important meeting as we discussed the structure and role of the assembly going forward. The prospect of significant change can be challenging, and facilitating the process with more than 300 social workers across the country virtually is not a minor task.

I must thank our dear colleague Teri Cardwell for her active engagement in this process. The spirited conversations and deliberations demonstrated the commitment of local chapter members and leadership to assuring we have a vibrant, transparent and inclusive association.

While I admit it was not always easy, the outcome truly underscored the value of staying the course and being true to what we say we value as a profession — namely inclusive, transparent, respectful and democratic deliberations.

Where am I going with all of this you might ask? There are two reasons for sharing these stories: I wanted to reflect on some of the amazing opportunities afforded to me over the past few months; and to celebrate the richness of the social work profession that I sometimes take for granted.

Across these experiences I realize more and more that the presence of social work is not only impactful but it is necessary. The impressions we leave are the stuff great narratives are built upon, and our presence is impactful. It is a bit of a cliché, but first impressions are lasting impressions.

I am proud to be part of a professional body that is taking on challenges across the globe — or across the street — to make lasting and important changes for our world.

Contact Darrell Wheeler at