A Night at the Awards: Ten recipients honored

Darrell Wheeler and Adrienne Decker-DelgadoNASW’s Social Worker of the Year (photo right), Adrienne Decker-Delgado, right, accepts the award from NASW President Darrell Wheeler during a red-carpet awards ceremony and reception at the NASW National Conference in July. Photo by Kea Taylor/Imagine Photography

NASW celebrated 10 individuals, eight of whom are social workers, during a red-carpet event held in July as part of NASW’s national conference, “Social Work: Courage, Hope and Leadership.”

“A Night at the Awards, A Night to Remember” featured an actual red carpet, a reception and speeches from recipients of four NASW National awards, four NASW Foundation awards and two Council of Chapter Executives awards.

“Tonight we honor 10 individuals,” said NASW President Darrell Wheeler, who opened the ceremony. “They work tirelessly to transform the lives, homes and communities across the United States. Tonight we come together as one organization to celebrate social work.”

NASW National Awards

Adrienne Decker-Delgado, NASW’s Social Worker of the Year, was recognized for helping create an online resource map for health and social services, called The site, aimed at the underserved population in Phoenix, Ariz., has reached more than 4 million residents in the community.

The site was launched in 2012 after Decker-Delgado convinced her supervisor at the Maricopa County Department of Public Health of the benefits of hosting an online resource to help people find free and low-cost health and social services. She said more than 90 percent of Phoenix residents had no idea of the services offered.

The site is also available in Spanish, at

Decker-Delgado has been a social worker in Arizona’s Maricopa County for more than 20 years.

“I don’t work with too many social workers on my floor. When I get to do it I’m excited,” she said at the reception. “I think it’s absolutely important that we realize with passion and with excitement how many resources we have here. We know what’s out there for our communities, but it makes no sense that Maricopa County did not know. We need to find ways in other communities (to get information and resources out.)”

Mitchell Kahn, director of the BSW program in the Department of Social Work at Ramapo College in New Jersey, said he started his career in social work more than 50 years ago. He never imagined he would be at “A Night at the Awards” accepting the NASW Lifetime Achievement award.

“What I’ve said is, it’s not about me, it’s about we,” he said. “How do we empower our clients to fight for themselves? How do we fight together to make progressive change in this country?”

Kahn was recognized for his work in helping thousands of residents in Bergen County, N.J., find affordable housing, and for his advocacy efforts in other social justice issues.

Susan Frank, founder and executive director of Hearts for Homes in Denton, Texas, received the NASW Public Citizen of the Year award. She was recognized for her work in providing housing assistance for the aging population in her community.

“It’s been the most challenging, yet most heartbreaking, yet most rewarding thing I’ve ever done,” Frank said. “Seniors shouldn’t be living this way — floors in (such) bad shape, not safe to walk across. These are their golden years.”

Florida state Rep. Mia Jones, D-Jacksonville, received the Public Elected Official of the Year award. She was recognized for promoting economic development in the underserved communities of her jurisdiction, improving quality of life for residents, and sponsoring legislation for economic development, health care and education.

“You all are doing the work that many others would never have the opportunity to do, or take the time to do,” Jones said. “You all are conducting a labor of love. The quality of life of millions is improved when we work together as a team.”

NASW Foundation Awards

Four award recipientsFour award recipients pose for a photo (right) with NASW CEO Angelo McClain, left, and NASW President Darrell Wheeler, right. Awardees from left are Robert Connolly, Mitchell Kahn, Lisa Pape and Charles Glisson. Photo by Kea Taylor/Imagine Photography

Robert Connolly, LCSW-C — Recipient of the Knee/Wittman Outstanding Achievement in Health and Mental Health Policy.

Connolly was recognized for his extensive contributions in health care, Medicare and Medicaid public policy, and quality measurements in long-term care. He leads and coordinates national nursing home social work webinars with the University of Iowa School of Social Work.

“I want to say how honored and humbled I am with this award,” he said. “Most of us are behind the scenes doing work, making a difference and not getting credit … which is why receiving this award means a big deal to me.”

Lisa Pape, LISW — Recipient of the Knee/Wittman Outstanding Achievement in Health and Mental Health Policy.

Pape is the national director of Homeless Programs for the Veterans Health Administration at the Department of Veterans Affairs. She was noted for her veteran mentoring and advocacy in ensuring that veterans who have served their country have access to the services and support they need.

Pape also has implemented programs in the VA, including Supportive Services for Veteran Families.

“I knew since I was 13 I would be a social worker,” Pape said. “It’s not work if you love what you do. Everyone told me not to be a social worker, but it must have been a calling. (And) here I am with this honor.”

Charles Glisson, MSW — Recipient of the Knee Wittman Lifetime Achievement in Health and Mental Health Practice.

Glisson is the founding director of the Children’s Mental Health Services Research Center at the University of Tennessee. He was recognized for his groundbreaking research in the organization and delivery of social and mental health services to children and families. Glisson’s research efforts have also been recognized by the National Institute of Mental Health.

“I’m just delighted to receive this award,” Glisson said. “It’s important that the work recognized by this award was the result of the help of many people. One downside a little, if it’s a lifetime achievement award … is that a requirement to get it at the end of the (lifetime)? I hope not.”

Sen. Barbara Mikulski, D-Md., MSW — Recipient of the International Rhoda G. Sarnat Award.

Sen. Mikulski, the longest-serving woman in Congress, was recognized for her continuous advocacy for legislation that supports the social work profession. She is also known for championing for women’s rights and women’s health. Mikulski also is the chairwoman of the Senate Appropriations Committee.

Mikulski was unable to attend the event, but sent a video message for attendees.

“I’m so proud of you. Social workers do so much good for American families and communities, she said. “That’s why I fight so hard for you.”

NASW’s Council of Chapter Executives Awards

NASW-Connecticut Executive Director Stephen Karp — Recipient of the Gilman-Wells award.

Karp was recognized for his work and the chapter’s work in getting the Connecticut Department of Administrative Services to agree to the preferential hiring of social workers.

“To get an award from this group of EDs means the world to me,” Karp said.

NASW-Utah Executive Director Emily Bleyl — Recipient of the Outstanding Chapter Executive award.

Bleyl received the award for her effective management of the Utah chapter through government relations, conference planning, targeted communications, and marketing, and for demonstrated community service leadership outside her executive director role.

“All interactions are not always rainbows and unicorns in Utah, but like my grandfather, a former pitcher, I’m not afraid to play hardball when necessary,” she said.

NASW CEO Angelo McClain concluded the event with remarks to the award recipients.

“Robert Kennedy once said there are those who look at things the way they are and they ask why. He went on to say I dream of things that never were and asked why not,” McClain said. “We are so glad you’re among those who ask why not. We’re also so glad you didn’t stop there. Awardees, we take our hats off to you. You are truly all stars.”

Breakout sessions cover a wide variety of topics

Throughout NASW’s four-day national conference in July, attendees had the opportunity to choose from more than 100 symposia presentations, which each lasted 90 minutes and comprised a three-person panel.

Topics focused on social work issues, but varied greatly — from yoga therapy to current practices in suicide-risk assessment. Following are examples of some of the sessions offered.

Mental and Behavioral Health

The number one thing that people want — across gender, age, race and religion — is to be happy. This was one message from a mental and behavioral health symposium, which included the topics:

  • “Assessment of Motivational Interviewing Knowledge and Skill Application Using a Virtual Patient”
  • “Evidence Based Best-Practices in the Therapeutic Use of Photography in Clinical Social Work”
  • “The Power of Happiness: Positive Psychology and its Implications for Treatment”

Some small things people can do every day to increase their happiness include meditation, exercise, keeping a gratitude journal, performing random acts of kindness and simply making the time to have fun, one presenter said.

Clinical Social Work

Vicarious trauma, compassion fatigue, and yoga are all related to social work, as one session showcased. The three presentations were:

  • “Compassion Fatigue: I am Dancing as Fast as I Can”
  • “Vicarious Trauma: Dangers of Helping Others”
  • Yoga-Mindfulness and the Courage to Heal — Self Care for Social Workers, Present and Future”

Many social workers think they suffer from burnout, but it could be compassion fatigue, said Violet Cox-Wingo, of the Department of Veterans Affairs. The symptoms are similar and include exhaustion, lack of interest, difficulty concentrating and depression.

“Compassion fatigue is one of the saddest consequences for the unhealed social worker,” Cox-Wingo said. “There is a constant outpouring of compassion, and we’re taught to put other people before our own needs.”

She says it’s OK to say no and to make self-care a priority, because compassion fatigue can affect social workers on the job if left untreated.

“It’s more than being burned out. Compassion fatigue consumes the person entirely,” she said. “It can cause an inability to work effectively within a team, a lack of vision for the future, and, in extreme cases, suicide.”

Speakers stressed the importance of social work self-care, and yoga was discussed as an excellent way to practice this.

“Yoga helps us become more mindful,” said Dori DiPietro, a social worker with the Maricopa Community College District. “Some people have a problem with the soul thing, but it’s really not about religion. Yoga tries to tap us into our potential.”

Health Care

“Reviving Hope and Breaking Shame: Three Social Workers’ Perspectives after Breast Cancer”

Social workers Mitt Joyner, Lawanna Barron and Nancy Poorvu each discussed how they have dealt with a breast cancer diagnosis, and the importance of sharing your own story with others.

“I share my story when appropriate, because I believe it empowers other people,” said Joyner, a 19-year breast cancer survivor. “And social workers need to be able to help others who are going through something similar.”

Poorvu, who is living with metastatic breast cancer, shared research she conducted that focuses on social workers with serious physical illness. She discussed the ethical dilemmas that can occur in these cases, such as when and if you should disclose the illness to clients and “knowing when your health is compromised to the point where you can’t help clients enough.”

Brown said the first question she asked after being diagnosed was “Who can I talk to?” In her small, rural area in Georgia, it was taboo to discuss cancer, she said. Brown said she began visiting different churches in the area to deliver the message to get checked for breast cancer. She also started a support group.

“Resiliency is the key to this,” she said. “Physical health and emotional health are also key.”

But most of all, Brown said, we have to talk about it.

“We gotta crack this,” she said. “We gotta talk about it. … Talking about it will save our lives.”

Workforce and Social Justice

“Getting in the Door: A Case Study of Employment Challenges of Three Older African Americans” was presented by Laurie Blackman Thompson, assistant director of Gerontology at Howard University in Washington, D.C.

Through interviews and research, Thompson explained that older workers are often stigmatized from finding employment due to their age. “Minorities are particularly vulnerable,” she said.

At the same session, NASW Social Work Pioneer® Jack Hansan, outlined the history of social work’s important role in fighting poverty and the War on Poverty initiatives that started in 1964. He said social work leaders are needed for today’s poverty challenges.

“I ask you to find a subject or role you are passionate about and get to work,” he said.

Rural Practice and Resources

Carolyn Hubenak, a retired school social work in rural Texas, said rural culture is a culture itself that has not been studied or appreciated. Twenty-percent of social work is practiced in rural areas, she noted.

Social worker Adrienne Decker-Delgado, who was recognized as the national Social Worker of the Year, discussed how she and others went about creating, a free online listing of health and social services resources for the residents of Maricopa County in Arizona.

Thomasine Heitkamp, professor of social work at the University of North Dakota, discussed the challenges of addressing health, mental health and social needs of those seeking a better life in the boomtowns of North Dakota.

Science of Social Work

In addition to the symposia presentations during the conference, several preconference workshops were offered, covering topics like best practices in supervision, understanding and decoding the DSM-5 and diversity, cultural competence and the pursuit of practice excellence.

Jeane Anastas, immediate past president of NASW and a professor at the Silver School of Social Work at New York University, was a presenter at the preconference workshop “Building a Science of Social Work Practice.”

She said defining social work as a science would promote greater opportunities for research grants, enhance interdisciplinary collaborations and build upon the prestige of the profession.

Anastas joined presenter Cynthia Franklin, assistant dean for doctoral education and Stiernberg/Spencer Family Professor in Mental Health at the University of Texas at Austin School of Social Work.

Social work “practitioners must be part of the discussion,” Anastas said of collecting data. “We need a pipeline of research to practice.”

Franklin added: “I am a big advocate for practice-based evidence to evidence-based practice.”