Leaders meet to advocate and celebrate profession

— Laetitia Clayton and Rena Malai, News staff

NASW 2015 Annual Leadership Meeting

Ana Bonilla-Galdamez Ana Bonilla-Galdamez accepts the NASW National Award for Social Worker of the Year during a ceremony April 30 in Washington, D.C. The event was part of NASW’s Annual Leadership Meeting, where association leaders come together to advocate for social work on Capitol Hill and hold meetings regarding organizational matters.

About 115 NASW leaders met in Washington, D.C., in late April to visit with lawmakers on Capitol Hill, discuss the state of the association, and honor seven individuals who were chosen to receive NASW National and Foundation awards.

The 2015 NASW Annual Leadership Meeting, held April 29-May 1 at the Omni Shoreham Hotel, also included an announcement of the Council of Chapter Executive’s Awards and an NASW Board of Directors’ meeting.

In his opening remarks, NASW President Darrell Wheeler said the association must have a singular focus in building a stronger organization that will withstand social and economic changes, global political turbulence, domestic and international threats, and demographic shifts, among other challenges in today’s world.

“We must continue to build on our strong and rich legacy that has sustained us for the past 60 years, while ensuring that we are positioned to respond rapidly to the uncertainties of the time,” he said. “As the largest social work organization, NASW must also fulfill its obligation to lead, within the profession and within society.”

During his State of the Association address, NASW CEO Angelo McClain outlined his three-year strategic plan to strengthen and move the association forward. One way NASW is doing this, he said, is by bolstering its federal public policy agenda and increasing its presence on Capitol Hill — with a focus on respect, reimbursement and resources for social workers.

Advocacy on The Hill

As part of ALM, chapter leaders gathered on Capitol Hill on the morning of April 30 to prepare for visits with lawmakers. By midmorning, The Hill was buzzing with social work-related conversations as national board members, chapter executive directors, presidents and presidents-elect — armed with NASW talking points, a map of the Hill and lots of information — visited their state elected officials face to face.

The day began with an orientation that included a Capitol Hill navigation crash course; remarks from McClain and Wheeler; a visit from Congressional Social Work Caucus Chairwoman Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Calif.; and a personal story of hope told by Rep. Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz., also a social worker.

Bernadette Seifert, president-elect of NASW’s New Hampshire Chapter, right, meets with U.S. Rep. Frank Guinta, R-N.H.Bernadette Seifert, president-elect of NASW’s New Hampshire Chapter, right, meets with U.S. Rep. Frank Guinta, R-N.H., during NASW’s Advocacy program, which was part of the association’s Annual Leadership Meeting held in April in Washington, D.C.

Lee opened Advocacy Day, expressing her thanks to attendees for their work in spreading the importance of social work on Capitol Hill.

“Our Code of Ethics really drives what we do (as social workers) … and I’m so glad to see so many of you here on the Hill because you need to get to these members of Congress and lobby them — especially (in regard to) the Dorothy I. Height and Whitney M. Young Jr. Social Work Reinvestment Act,” she said.

It’s important to be succinct and clear, yet passionate, when describing how social work impacts people’s individual lives, Wheeler advised chapter leaders.

“How wonderful to have this vantage point to look and see in this room that there are more than a hundred of us here representing over 49 different jurisdictions — and how essential it is for us to engage in advocacy,” Wheeler said.

He added that NASW — under McClain’s direction — is developing important constituents and relationships in the 114th Congress.

It’s also important in our visits to tell our stories, Wheeler said, which is what Sinema emphasized during the Advocacy program. She led by example and described her personal journey of being homeless and living in a gas station as a child, putting herself through college, and eventually arriving on Capitol Hill as a congresswoman.

She said her story is not typical of a member of Congress, one part being that she has a master’s degree in social work.

“There’s not very many of us in elected office at all, but very few in Congress,” she said.

Sinema was born and raised in Tucson, Ariz., to a middle-class family. She said her father lost his job during the recession in the early 1980s. Shortly after, her parents divorced and her family faced foreclosure on their home.

“I remember one day someone came and (repossessed) our car,” she said, adding with humor, “although who would take an orange El Camino ...”

Her family lived through difficult times over the next few years, Sinema said, and for two years lived in an abandoned gas station without running water or electricity. They received help from the government, and family and friends, and they did make it through.

“We got back on our feet. We never really made it back to middle class,” she said. “We were kind of poor working-class folks, but I was lucky. Thanks to programs like Pell Grants, I was able to get through college ... (with) an academic scholarship plus working full time at a domestic violence shelter.”

Sinema said she chose to work toward a bachelor’s degree in social work because there’s no other degree — except for an MSW — that prepares someone to so fully help an individual in his or her environment.

“When you think to yourself that our country is a tough place for those who live in poverty, it’s also an incredible place,” she said. “There’s no other place where a little girl who grew up homeless in a gas station could be a member of Congress.”

Sinema also has a law degree and a Ph.D., and teaches at Arizona State University’s School of Social Work.

The talking points, aimed to help NASW leaders start conversations with their elected officials, included Medicare beneficiaries’ access to clinical social work services; supporting loan forgiveness for social work students and graduates; reauthorizing the Older Americans Act; and strengthening child welfare service delivery to enhance child and family well-being.

Joan Levy Zlotnik, director of NASW’s Social Work Policy Institute, pointed out that Medicare reimbursement for clinical social workers is a multifaceted issue that should be addressed with lawmakers. What happens in Medicare also helps drive what a lot of insurance companies do, she said, and one of the critical pieces is the fact that right now, clinical social workers are reimbursed at 75 percent of what physicians are reimbursed.

“We need Congress and the administration to address these barriers to enhance availability of mental health treatment for Medicare beneficiaries, and really promote full access to clinical social workers,” Zlotnik said. “It’s really critical because Medicare beneficiaries are not getting full access to clinical social work services now.”

A Night at the Awards

Recipients of NASW’s National and Foundation AwardsRecipients of NASW’s National and Foundation Awards pose with NASW CEO Angelo McClain and NASW President Darrell Wheeler during an ALM reception. From left: McClain, Katharine Briar-Lawson, Ana Bonilla-Galdamez, Wheeler, Harold “Hal” Lipton, The Rev. Ann E. Helmke, Phyllis B. Mitzen and Roberta R. Greene.

On the evening of April 30, NASW recognized seven individuals for their social work-related accomplishments and dedication during a reception, dinner and ceremony.

Wheeler told attendees that the four national and three Foundation award recipients are individuals who continue to work tirelessly to transform the lives of others across the state and the globe.

“But the best of social work is not just in these seven individuals,” he added. “It’s in this room.”

NASW National Awards

Social Worker of the Year — Ana Bonilla-Galdamez

Bonilla-Galdamez was recognized as an innovative school social worker in the Alexandria, Va., public school system, where she developed model programs that change the lives of vulnerable youth. One of these is the Latino Youth for Excellence program, which helps steer young people away from the negative influences of gang life.

The program, which focuses on prevention and intervention, also helped reduce school dropout rates, change gang-related behavior, and reduce teen pregnancies in the community.

While accepting the award for Social Worker of the Year, Bonilla-Galdamez thanked not only her family for their support, but also her mentors and fellow teachers.

“I have not made this journey alone,” she said.

She also said she feels fortunate to go home after work knowing she has made a positive impact on the community by being a social worker.

“Simply knowing that I have been a positive influence in someone’s life is enough for me,” she said. “We all need a champion who has hope in us and will advocate for us.”

Lifetime Achievement — Phyllis B. Mitzen

Mitzen was recognized for a career that spans four decades in gerontology in Illinois.

Some of her accomplishments include overseeing the mobilization of the first nursing home ombudsman program in the state, which gave residents a new voice; creating the first home-sharing program in the Midwest, which expanded housing options for the elderly; and leading an initiative to raise homecare worker pay rates to include health care benefits.

Mitzen was also instrumental in the passage of legislation that reformed the long-term care system in Illinois and she helped form a community-based ethics committee while serving in a leadership role at the Council for Jewish Elderly.

When accepting her award for Lifetime Achievement, Mitzen said her work isn’t done. Her goal is to “continue to fight the good fight,” and to share her “passion and experience with the younger generation entering the field.”

She also spoke to her two granddaughters in the audience, who are 11 and 13 years old.

“My old age is in good hands,” she said. “My wish for you is that when you reach my age, you can look back on your career and relationships with pride, as I have.”

Public Citizen of the Year — The Rev. Ann E. Helmke

Helmke, an ordained Lutheran minister, has devoted her work to advocating for peace. When the city of San Antonio, Texas, was plagued by violence in the 1990s, Helmke helped organize the Gang Peace Summit and Seminars. The programs reduced gang-related violence, saved lives and empowered families experiencing grief.

She is the director of spiritual services at Haven for Hope, a shelter for San Antonio-Bexar County’s homeless, victims of abuse, the disenfranchised and those who need mental health and substance abuse intervention. Helmke also is co-founder of the San Antonio Peace Center and an adjunct professor of religion.

When introducing Helmke, Wheeler said she is not a social worker, but her accomplishments exemplify social work.

Helmke said she was first shocked and stunned, then of course honored and humbled to accept the Public Citizen of the Year award.

“Perhaps you see in me what I see in you,” she said. “I’ve learned so much from social workers.”

Public Elected Official of the Year —Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa

Harkin could not attend the ceremony, but Wheeler said he was being recognized for his legislative work, primarily as the lead author of the 1990 Americans with Disabilities Act.

Harkin has also worked to improve education in Iowa and across the country; worked to ensure the Affordable Care Act became law; and championed the 2008 Paul Wellstone and Pete Domenici Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act.

In addition, he has worked to advance collaborative research in paralysis and to improve quality of life to those living with paralysis. His Christopher and Dana Reeve Act, named after the actor and his wife, became law in 2009.

Harkin led the fight to lift former President Bush’s restrictions on embryonic stem cell research, and President Obama signed an executive order in 2009 that lifted the restrictions.

NASW Foundation Awards

Bernice Harper and NASW President Darrell Wheeler NASW Social Work Pioneer® and Foundation Award presenter Bernice Harper, left, and NASW President Darrell Wheeler pause on the red carpet leading into the ceremony for the NASW National and Foundation Award recipients, during ALM.

Knee/Wittman Outstanding Achievement — Roberta R. Greene

Greene is recognized for devoting her life to promoting principles of social and economic justice.

Betsy Vourlekis, who introduced Greene, told a story of Greene being arrested in the 1980s while protesting against apartheid outside the South African embassy in Washington, D.C. Vourlekis also mentioned that Greene is ready to publish her 13th or 14th book.

Greene is emerita faculty at the University of Texas-Austin, and is known as a national leader in social work education. She also is an NASW Social Work Pioneer®.

When accepting her award, Greene chose to talk about the people for whom the award is named: Ruth Knee and Milton Wittman.

“They’re really the reason we’re here now,” she said. “To get an award from you all with their names on it is very, very special.”

Knee/Wittman Lifetime Achievement — Harold “Hal” Lipton

NASW Social Work Pioneer® Bernice Harper introduced Lipton, who is also a Pioneer. Harper noted Lipton’s work with children and being with the parents of children who were dying from cancer. At Children’s National Medical Center in Washington, D.C., Lipton was director of social services from 1977 to 1989.

Harper said while there, he worked with those who were disadvantaged and poor, and he “taught other care providers to work with compassion.”

Lipton also created the first HIV/AIDS support group for social workers in D.C., Harper said, and has been a health care service leader, a social work advocate on Capitol Hill, and “has changed hundreds of thousands of lives.”

Lipton, who has been a social worker for more than 50 years, said there were lots of social workers in the room “who may never get this award, but who really deserve it.”

International Rhoda G. Sarnat Award — Katharine Briar-Lawson

Joan Levy Zlotnik, director of the NASW Social Work Policy Institute, introduced Briar-Lawson, and said she is recognized for “helping the most vulnerable in our society.”

Briar-Lawson has been at the cutting edge of practice and policy innovation, connecting research and practice locally and globally. She is recognized for her expertise in child welfare and aging issues, and known for her creativity and vision.

Briar-Lawson said she credits NASW with defining her career, and also defining the public good.

“NASW embraces the world,” she said. “I hope that when NASW can celebrate its 100th anniversary, that others like us can celebrate (it too).”

She added that receiving the Sarnat Award was a watershed moment for her, and announced that she was transitioning out of her deanship at The School of Social Welfare at the University of New York at Albany. NASW’s current president, Darrell Wheeler, she said, is the incoming dean.

“I will now be free to commit more of my time to NASW … and to my beloved profession,” Briar-Lawson said.

In closing, McClain told the award recipients they have inspired others and that they personify NASW’s mission.

“You have reminded us that we too can be extraordinary, no matter how ordinary we are,” he said. “You’ve reminded us that we too can make a difference. We thank you for paving the way for change.”

COCE Awards

Also during ALM, the Council of Chapter Executives honored Sandy Bayless Krout, administrative supervisor for the Indiana Chapter, with the Gilman-Wells Award; and Janlee Wong, executive director of the California Chapter, with the Outstanding Chapter Executive Award