By Alison Laurio
As more chapters join together to provide their members with online programs, three chapters are taking sharing to a new level.
On May 18, the Illinois, North Dakota and Wyoming chapters held a program for all members, “Mental Illness and Racism: A Look at How Systemic Racism Affects People of Color with Mental Illness.” By June, they were deep into plans for their first multistate NASW conference.
“It just makes sense now that we’re all doing most things virtually,” said NASW-Illinois Executive Director Joel Rubin. Illinois is a large chapter, with a little more than 5,000 members, he said, and the combined three-chapter total membership is about 6,000.
Kristin Rubbelke, NASW-North Dakota executive director, had been active in the Illinois chapter and is a native of North Dakota; and Kyle Hillman, part-time chapter executive director for NASW-Nevada, also is director of legislative affairs for the Illinois chapter.
The Mental Illness and Racism program was an area of interest for North Dakota social workers in spite of its primarily white population, Rubbelke said. The state has five federally recognized Indian reservations and large U.S. Air Force bases in Minot and Grand Forks, she said.
There is a lot of interaction with the bases, where some members live, and there are numerous LCSW positions as well. Last year was turbulent, and members need to understand how to treat patients with diverse backgrounds, Rubbelke said.
On the racism and mental illness program, Hillman said, “diversity of thought is always a good thing on policy discussions. The uniqueness of NASW is we’re in every state and none of them are the same. States differ. Needs differ.” He added that he thinks the racism topic is for all states and all chapters.
Rubbelke said her chapter board members are really excited about the joint conference. “It gives us more outreach and the opportunity to be part of something bigger.”
Hillman said the event allows all three chapters to “share the workload and share the costs.” He is looking forward to seeing the reaction from members. “We have some great presenters, which gives members the opportunity to hear voices from Illinois and North Dakota they might not hear. Everybody is excited about the conference.”
“Nevada has some really great speakers,” he said. “When the idea was proposed, quite a few members were excited we were bringing in speakers from outside of Nevada, something we normally can’t afford to do.”
The collaboration also allows a diversity of topics, and that’s “content that we desperately need in Nevada,” Hillman said. “Because NASW is such a diverse organization and has chapters all over the country, if there is education going on and it’s important to members, I want to share it.”
He also is looking forward to seeing how members respond to seeing the networking opportunities when they meet members from North Dakota and Illinois. Although he believes virtual connections can’t replicate in-person events, “where you live is no longer a barrier to having people come in to present. Virtual allows for diversity of thought, especially for small chapters like Nevada. Virtual gives that opportunity for chapters to share opportunities and resources more.”
Also, he said, the smaller chapters have to keep budgets low, so everybody benefits when someone else is sharing costs. Having a collaborative conference could provide a new model of how to work cost sharing and logistics, and Hillman hopes other state chapters will see the value and try it.