Kentucky Chapter executive director reaches across state

Melissa JohnsonDeep in thought during the early days of her college education, NASW Kentucky Chapter Executive Director Melissa Johnson pondered what social work really means.

She said the profession fascinated her — how the culture and class of people went hand-in-hand with systematic issues, and she wanted to know why.

Her curiosity combined with a natural desire to help those in her home state of Kentucky led her to pursue an undergraduate degree in psychology at the University of Kentucky, and then a master’s degree in social work at the University of Louisville. She is now a licensed clinical social worker.

“When I think about the idea of social workers being helpers, I think about what’s going on in the larger sense that makes us need those helpers,” Johnson said. “I wanted to get into social work because of the service aspect, and my focus all through grad school was on social justice at the macro level.”

Johnson previously worked in hospice care at HOSPARUS in Louisville, Ky., and as an advocate for the University of Louisville, where she campaigned against domestic violence and sexual assault. She currently has a small private practice, and became head of NASW’s Kentucky Chapter in November.

Johnson said she wants to get to know what the chapter’s 1,600 members need, especially those living and working in the far corners of the state.

“I’m a privileged gal living in the bigger city of Louisville, and sometimes I even feel isolated,” she said. “Who is paying attention to the social workers busting their butts in the far places of Kentucky? One of my goals is to pay attention to that, and give them what they need to meet their goals of being a better social worker.”

Making sure all members know about what’s going on at the chapter is important to her, Johnson said, and she wants members to feel they can participate freely in any chapter activities. To that end, the chapter has developed a new website and is making communication more accessible.

She plans to strengthen the chapter’s legislative presence in the state’s capital, and to be the base for social work in Kentucky.

“My main focus is to develop a larger statewide pulse for the profession, which includes finding out the needs of our profession and our people,” she said. “That’s why I love the theme for the July conference ‘All People Matter.’ Social workers matter as people; we are the ones out there making a difference and we need to take good care of ourselves so we can keep doing good work.”

Johnson also is promoting the chapter’s annual conference — where attendees can receive up to 12 continuing education credits — to nonmembers and also making conference fees affordable for existing members. She said she wants to show off NASW’s perks and make sure members know the chapter is there to fully support them.

“Our goal is to be there for them. I want members to know the chapter has their back,” Johnson said. “Each of our voices matter, and that’s what makes up the culture of Kentucky.”