Arkansas Chapter plans leadership academy, other programs

Holly BarronThe clean-tasting tap water and pristine beauty in Arkansas are a couple of things people may not know about the “natural state,” says NASW-Arkansas Executive Director Holly Barron (photo right).

It’s also where Barron has spent the last 20 years of her life, and the past year as head of NASW’s Arkansas Chapter.

Although most executive directors of NASW’s chapters hold social work degrees and come from professional social work backgrounds, Barron has degrees in communications and gender studies.

She says running a chapter is essentially like running a business — something she has plenty of experience in through her work over the past eight years in management, nonprofit and peer management consulting.

She’s worked for large organizations in Arkansas, including the Arkansas Children’s Hospital, the American Civil Liberties Union of Arkansas and the Arkansas Leukemia and Lymphoma Society.

All of this, Barron says, helped prep her for her current role.

“The way I look at it is, although it’s preferred for an ED to come from a social work background, traditional social work doesn’t happen in a chapter office. It’s running a business, and those skills are what I bring to the table,” she said.

Barron says that ever since high school, she’s felt a strong desire to help people like any good social worker would, and she has a passion for social justice.

When she saw the ED position advertised at NASW-Arkansas, she felt it was a perfect marriage of her skills in organizational development and social justice advocacy.

“Developing a good understanding of social work and the needs of social workers was more my learning curve when I started, but I’ve always had an affinity towards the profession,” she said.

Over the past year, Barron has focused on chapter analyses to figure out where the strengths and weaknesses are, assessing the needs of social workers in the state, and targeting areas of improvement.

The chapter has a strong, positive history with its annual conference, she says, where it’s possible for chapter members to obtain up to 24 continuing education credits.

Barron says she wants to continue to have high conference attendance, and is tailoring the conferences to make sign-up simple and conference material more relatable for Arkansas social workers.

“This past year for the annual conference, all of our speakers were all Arkansas-based, which (lent) a nice focus. We also

refined online registration and stepped up advertising to market the conference,” Barron said. “What makes a successful conference is making sure attendees get something out of it and find it useful.”

In the coming year, Barron says the chapter will to work to make resources readily available to members so they can easily access information on job resources, starting a private practice, and other commonalities that Barron notices members ask about the most.

She says the chapter will also start the NASW Arkansas Leadership Academy, which is accepting applications for the start of its pilot program this year. The academy consists of small classes of 10 to 12 attendees, who will meet a few times throughout the course of the year.

“The academy will bring in an expert in an area that’s critical to leadership development, such as networking, grant writing, coaching and mentoring,” she said.

The leadership academy is free and open to NASW members during the pilot program. After that, the academy will be open to NASW members and nonmembers for a tuition fee. Applicants to the academy need to be social workers, with two or more years of postgraduate work in the field and an interest and commitment to leadership. An application task force will select attendees who meet the necessary criteria.

Barron adds that getting her own MSW isn’t off the table, but for now she is invested in making the chapter the best it can be.

“There’s a lot of work to be done, and we’re really focusing on building opportunities up for our members,” she said. “We want to develop stronger, high-quality programs open to social workers, so they see this as an organization that’s providing a lot — and members are getting a lot back.”

Get more information on the NASW-Arkansas chapter.