Director reaching out to younger generation

Ron SimonThe popular television sitcom The Office put Scranton, Pa., on the map. It’s also the area where NASW-Pennsylvania Executive Director Ron Simon is from, and where he earned his MSW at Marywood University.

Simon said he has known since high school that social work is what he wanted to do, but an undergrad adviser at Kings College in Wilkes-Barre, Pa., strongly urged him away from a BSW. Instead, he worked toward double bachelor’s degrees in psychology and English.

“He told me social work is a dying field,” Simon said. “But I knew I wanted to interact with people, and I wanted to make a difference.”

Despite his adviser’s warnings, Simon started work in the field after graduating in the late 1980s, earning about $11,000 a year. But to find better opportunities, Simon knew he needed to get an MSW. When he attended grad school at Marywood University, Simon became an NASW member for the first time and part of an NASW Pennsylvania Chapter tradition.

“The NASW-Pennsylvania ED at the time came to speak while I was in grad school, and passed out applications for prospective student members,” Simon said. “This is a time-honored tradition for NASW to come speak to MSWs, and I’m happy that I now get to be a part of that.”

Prior to becoming executive director of the Pennsylvania Chapter last year, Simon was the social work supervisor at the VA Medical Center in Wilkes-Barre. He said he’s no stranger to being in roles with lots of responsibility involved, and had his first supervisory role when he was 23. The position was at the psychiatric hospital in what was then Wilkes-Barre General Hospital. Simon also is no stranger to NASW, with a membership spanning more than two decades.

“Coincidentally, I had previously worked on a social work month event last year at the Wilkes-Barre VA, and Jenna Mehnert (prior NASW-Pennsylvania ED) came to speak,” Simon said. “This was before I knew about the ED position. When I went for it, I thought what a powerful opportunity this is to direct a statewide organization.”

The chapter currently has about 6,000 members, and Simon wants to expand membership in the coming years by reaching out to the younger generation of social workers.

“We are working at better attracting potential younger members out there,” he said. “Student membership tends to stay constant, and once members join as a student they are likely to stay for life.”

The chapter is one of the leaders in continuing education opportunities for social workers, Simon said, and that will continue to be enhanced. For the first time, the chapter will offer two annual conferences in 2014, with one held in Philadelphia and the other in Pittsburgh. Attendance will merit a total of 30 CEs.

“This is a way for our members to meet the state requirements of acquiring 30 CEs every two years,” he said.

The chapter is also making its website more modern, Simon said, adding that the site offers portals for members to build their own profiles and network — similar to Facebook. He is marketing this tool so more members can take advantage of its networking benefits.

Simon said he is passionate about the profession of social work and wants the chapter to continue to grow.

“I feel we have grown so much, but there is still a lot to do to enhance it,” he said. “I agree with (NASW CEO) Dr. McClain — one of my goals ties directly in with not only making membership more relevant, but making the profession of social work more relevant.”