Social Workers Shine at L.A. Voice Awards

2011 Voice AwardsFrom left: Brendan Broms of NASW-Los Angeles, screenwriter Rob Woronoff, past NASW President Suzanne Dworak-Peck, and screenwriter and actor Hilliard Guess.

Social workers Ron Barber and Jacki McKinney snagged top honors in August at the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s 2011 Voice Awards at Paramount Studios in Los Angeles.

Barber, an aide to Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.), who was injured in a shooting attack in January in Tucson, Ariz., was honored with a Special Recognition Award for establishing the Fund for Civility, Respect and Understanding.

That fund is launching an anti-bullying program in public schools and is seeking to lessen the stigma surrounding mental illness through a community-wide educational campaign to increase awareness of mental illness and treatment options.

McKinney, who was sexually abused as an infant and later battled mental illness and substance abuse problems, earned a lifetime achievement award for her 21 years as a fierce advocate for mental health care consumers, particularly people of color and women.

“In this room with me tonight are people who have taken every step of the journey with me,” said McKinney, 77, who accepted the award with her son and daughter by her side. “You have to admit trauma to start to heal.”

Barber used part of his acceptance speech to praise Giffords. The congresswoman pushed for funding to build a trauma treatment center in Tucson. That center probably saved Giffords’ life when she received treatment there in January when she and others were shot by Jared Loughner at a Tucson shopping center.

Loughner, 22, who killed six people and injured 14, is being held in a prison hospital in Missouri. Among the dead was another Giffords aide and social worker, Gabe Zimmerman.

“One of the most resilient people we can ever hope to meet is Gabrielle Giffords,” Barber said.

Hosted this year by Parenthood and Six Feet Under star Peter Krause, the Voice Awards, honor television shows, movies and consumer/peer leaders such as Barber and McKinney who educate the public about mental health and substance abuse and help promote public acceptance of people with these issues.

With the award show being televised near the sixth anniversary of Hurricane Katrina and the 10th anniversary of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, there was an emphasis on healing and recovery from trauma.

Television programs and movies that received honors this year included The King’s Speech, Parenthood, and Harry’s Law starring Kathy Bates.

The National Association of Social Workers is a Voice Awards co-partner, along with the National Association of County Behavioral Health and Developmental Disability Directors, the National Alliance of Mental Illness and many other organizations.

Talk Therapy TV, a New York cable public access program that educates the public about mental illness, is also a Voice Awards partner. The program was created by NASW member Jacob Berelowitz, who was also in attendance.

In addition, NASW was represented by past president Suzanne Dworak-Peck, a pioneer in getting more positive social work roles in television and film; and Brendan Broms, membership coordinator for NASW California Chapter.

NASW’s guests were Rob Woronoff, a former Child Welfare League of America staffer and screenwriter who is working on a social work series with actor Blair Underwood, and Hilliard Guess, an actor and screenwriter who is also contributing to Underwood’s project.

“NASW is proud to be a co-partner of this outstanding event,” NASW Executive Director Elizabeth J. Clark said. “It’s also gratifying to see social workers receive public recognition for their efforts to help people with mental health issues and addictions, and increase public empathy for them.”


Visit the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration online.