Pioneers celebrate 20 years, hold 10th annual event

Pioneers small groupPhoto right: from left, NASW Social Work Pioneers® Jesse Harris, June Simmons, Douglas Glasgow, Juan Ramos, NASW CEO Angelo McClain, and Pioneer Steve Hornberger attend the Pioneers 20th Anniversary Observance and 10th Annual Event in October at the Woman’s National Democratic Club in Washington, D.C.

Before schools of social work, before legal regulations and codes of ethics, there were social work pioneers, said Robert Cohen, a member of the NASW Pioneer steering committee.

Cohen remarked on this during his speech at the NASW Social Work Pioneer® 20th Anniversary Observance and 10th Annual Event. More than 100 people — including Pioneers, social work leaders and NASW and Foundation staff — attended the two-day event, which was held in October at the Woman’s National Democratic Club in Washington, D.C.

“In so far as fighting for social justice, it might be argued that agents of change — muckrakers, suffragettes — all were forerunners,” Cohen said. “All were travelers. All were pioneers.”

The NASW Social Work Pioneer® program was established by NASW founding Secretary Ruth Knee and former NASW Executive Director Mark Battle more than 20 years ago, Cohen said, and the anniversary observance celebrates the vision Knee and Battle had.

“They recognized the importance of capturing and preserving our (social work) heritage,” Cohen said. “Their vision and skill-driving force for the NASW Pioneer program, we celebrate today.”

NASW CEO and NASW Foundation President Angelo McClain said during his welcoming remarks that the event was a time for social workers and the Pioneers to pat themselves on the back collectively and individually.

“This is a celebration — celebrating ourselves as a profession and our Pioneers for the terrific work you have done,” McClain said. “We stand on your shoulders.”

McClain also encouraged the students in attendance to learn all they could from the social work mentors who surrounded them.

Chris Ova, a social work student at Catholic University in Washington, D.C., said the event was inspirational. He said Bernice Harper, chairwoman of the Pioneer Program Planning Committee, invited him to attend.

“It was great, because I was able to see all the social work pioneers and learn about a great profession as I start my education in social work,” Ova said.

Katie Pura, also a social work student at Catholic University, said she was there to learn more about the Pioneers, to network and to better understand the profession.

“I wanted to connect with the Pioneers and learn more about the events that are affecting our clients and the profession,” Pura said. “I wanted to be better informed about it, and know how to contribute in a positive way.”

NASW Social Work Pioneer® Stanley Weinstein, who is the executive director of the Maryland Board of Social Work Examiners, introduced the seminar speakers at the event. He said this is his third year as a Pioneer, and the program and the event are important because they recognize social work history.

“We’re probably averaging between 40 and 60 years of social work experience — making a difference in the lives of children, families, adults and communities. What could be better?” he said. “This is a wonderful opportunity to be able to be in the midst of all these people from various backgrounds representing social work across the Unites States.”

The event opened with a greeting from Jesse Harris, Pioneer steering committee co-chair, and included a keynote presentation by Richard Barth, dean of the School of Social Work at the University of Maryland and founding president of the American Academy of Social Work and Social Welfare.

full Pioneers group shot

The NASW Social Work Pioneers® take a group photograph (above) at their 20th Anniversary Observance and 10th Annual Event in October at the Woman’s National Democratic Club in Washington, D.C

Barth spoke about the academy’s Grand Challenges Initiative, which is designed to engage the public in identifying ambitious yet achievable goals for society that mobilize the social work profession, capture the public’s imagination, and require innovation and breakthroughs in science and practice to achieve. (See more at

“Talking with the Pioneers about the American Academy of Social Work and Social Welfare’ Grand Challenges for Social Work Initiative was a productive joy,” Barth said after the event. “The Pioneers provided many great ideas for challenges and for ways to frame them in ways that will effectively engage the profession and the public. I feel very fortunate to have been part of their 20th anniversary celebration.”

Harper gave the closing statements and addressed the role for social workers and society in the 21st century.

“The Industrial Revolution did what it was supposed to, the technology revolution is doing what it is supposed to, and the next revolution should be the human caring revolution involving love, caring, deep compassion, empowerment and health,” Harper said.

In their own words ...

  • “The NASW Social Work Pioneers® are role models for the profession, and hopefully we give a sense of hope to younger people.” — NASW Pioneer Herman Curiel, faculty emeritus at the Oklahoma School of Social Work
  • “There is such an amazing amount of knowledge, skill and wisdom in this room as we look at people attending who are in their 90s. We have leaders who have been major contributors to the development of social work programs in our country for many years. This program is so critical to the field of social work, as well as connecting us as we age, and maintaining knowledge and making it available for those who are joining the field now.” — NASW Pioneer Cindy Jones, associate clinical professor at the Army’s Medical Education Department, Fort Sam Houston.
  • “This is always a wonderful event. Pioneers can connect with old friends, you meet new people, and then there are always the students that you have an opportunity to observe. And if you’re lucky, you have a chance to interact with them, because you realize they are the Pioneers of tomorrow.” — Jesse Harris, Pioneer steering committee co-chair