Social Workers, Others Honored for Outstanding Service


By Paul R. Pace

NASW and NASW Foundation Virtual Night at the Awards

collage of award winners

Social worker Erin Merryn is a survivor of childhood sexual abuse.

To help put an end to the exploitation she suffered, Merryn has lobbied every state to pass Erin’s Law. It requires public schools to implement a prevention-oriented program that ensures every child in kindergarten through 12th grade receives sexual abuse prevention education.

Beginning with her home state of Illinois in 2009, Erin’s Law has now been passed in 37 states. In 2015, President Obama signed the federal version of Erin's Law, providing federal funding to schools to implement this education. Merryn has traveled across the nation to testify before legislators in support of the law.

Because of her efforts, Merryn received the NASW Foundation Knee/Wittman Outstanding Achievement Award.

She was among the honorees who were celebrated recently at the NASW and NASW Foundation “Virtual Night at the Awards, A Night to Remember.”

The online ceremony showcased social work excellence with the prestigious NASW and NASW Foundation Awards, which recognize individuals whose work has left an imprint in social work leadership, policy advocacy, and social change.

“It was social workers who stepped in my life when I was being abused and after I broke my silence,” Merryn said, noting that she knew at age 12 she was going to be a social worker. “That eventually made me realize I wanted to give back and help other vulnerable children to find their voice.”

NASW President Mildred “Mit” C. Joyner, and Steve Pemberton, best-selling author of “A Chance in the World,” co-hosted the event, which included a live Q&A.

Pemberton said he grew up in the foster care system and credits social workers with changing his personal and professional trajectory for the better.

Congratulatory messages were sent from Ambassador Wendy Sherman, MSW; Jake Tapper, CNN anchor and chief Washington correspondent; U.S. Rep. Sylvia Garcia, D-Texas, and U.S. Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Calif.

In addition, NASW past presidents Gary Bailey and Sue Dworak-Peck gave welcome messages.

screenshot of four attendees at the virtual awards ceremony

NASW Social Work Pioneer® Patricia Martin-O’Meally received the NASW Foundation Knee/Wittman Lifetime Achievement Award for 52 years of practice improving services to people living with a mental illness and for her commitment to community and social work education.

Martin-O’Meally was a pioneer in organizing and developing community-based programs to meet the needs of seriously mentally ill individuals who upon leaving the hospital needed services to support their adjustment to community living.

Zander Keig received the NASW Social Worker of the Year Award for his unparalleled work in promoting the dignity and health of people who are transgender, living with a mental illness, or serving in our nation’s military.

Keig, a U.S. Coast Guard veteran, also was the clinical social work case manager for the Navy Medicine West Transgender Care Team at Naval Medical Center in San Diego from 2016 to 2019.

Keig, also serves on the NASW LGBT Issues Committee.

The NASW Foundation International Rhoda G. Sarnat Award went to the Clarence and Diana Ming Chan family for their significant impact on school social work through their creation of the Learning Springboard program in the NASW Foundation.

Their monetary and visionary support has increased the number of school social workers in the San Francisco Unified School District. The Sarnat Award is given to an individual, group or organization that has significantly impacted the public image of professional social work.

Their son, Harrison Leong, accepted the award. He remembered his mother’s unstoppable drive and passion for social issues like domestic violence.

University of North Carolina Chapel Hill social work professor and author Iris Carlton-LaNey received the NASW Lifetime Achievement Award for her decades of work in training social workers to identify and fight discrimination and institutionalized oppression.

Lorraine Garcia’s work in running the police youth program in the Los Angeles Royal Heights neighborhood earned her the NASW Public Citizen of the Year award.

Garcia has been executive director of the Los Angeles Police Department Hollenbeck Police Activities League since 2001. The program, which she started with Officer Glenda Brooks, was created to reduce gang violence and promote healthy social-emotional skills among youth.

Pennsylvania State Rep. Mike Schlossberg accepted the NASW Public Elected Official of the Year award for advocating for improved mental health services and supporting the social work profession.

Schlossberg has experienced depression and anxiety and contemplated suicide. He has taken a public stand to demand mental health parity, so treatment of mental illnesses is viewed the same as treatment for any other diagnosed medical condition.

Pennsylvania social worker Dr. Scott Giacomucci is the first recipient of the NASW Emerging Social Work Leader Award for his accomplishments in trauma treatment, group work, social work education and research, and work as an advocate for people in prison and youth detention centers.

“I believe young people will have a central role in working to create a better world, especially young social workers,” he said. “Young people are the future. NASW’s new Emerging Leader Award recognizes that.”

Watch the NASW and NASW Foundation Virtual Night at the Awards on YouTube


Foundation Donations

The NASW Foundation extends its thanks to all NASW members and friends who lend their financial support, with special thanks to the following for their contributions of $100 or more through Dec. 15, 2020. All donors are listed at

NASW Foundation General Fund

Kenneth Beck, Wanda Ellingson, Jane Mitchel, Jean Parr, Anna Scheyett, Ligia Soileau, Joanne Cruz Tenery (monthly), Kathryn Wehrmann, Steven Wong, Judith Zabin

A Virtual Night at the Awards, A Night to Remember

Robert Carter Arnold, Jeane Anastas in memory of Dr. Betsy Clark, Freddie Avant, Darlyne Bailey on behalf of The Social Justice Initiative at Bryn Mawr College-Scott embodies the light of love in social justice for all, Sylvia P. Browne in honor of Patricia Martin-O'Meally, Patricia Campbell-Smith in honor of Patricia Martin-O’Meally, Elvira Craig de Silva in honor of Lorraine Garcia, Kerri Criswell, Rebecca Davis, Enrico “Rick” DeGironimo, Esther Dickerson in honor of Patricia Martin-O'Meally, Suzanne Dworak-Peck in honor of awardees, Friends and Colleagues of Samuel “Sam” G. Conant in honor of him, Wanda Ellingson, Bernice Catherine Harper in honor of Patricia Martin-O'Meally and in memory of Dr. Betsy Clark, Dorothy Harris in memory of Jack Hansan, Monica Harrison, Rodrigo Heng-Lehtinen in honor of Zander Keig, Tracy Hunt-White, D. Lynn Jackson, Catheleen Jordan, Mildred “Mit” Joyner, Nancy Lim-Yee in honor of the Clarence and Diana Ming Chan Family, Anthony "Angelo" McClain, Terry Mizrahi, Wilma Peebles-Wilkins, Joel Rubin, Cudore Snell in honor of Patricia Martin-O'Meally, Lann Thompson, Betsy Vourlekis in honor of Patricia Martin-O'Meally, Kathryn Wehrmann, Stanley Weinstein in honor of Patricia Martin-O'Meally, Gail Woods-Waller in honor of Patricia Martin-O'Meally, Lynne Wright, Marc and Joan Levy Zlotnik in honor of Iris Carlton-LaNey

NASW Foundation: Giving Tuesday

Robert Carter Arnold, Lisa Burch, Kerri Criswell, Renee Tucker-Eisape, Barbara Shank, Kim Simpson, Jennifer Watt, Kathryn Wehrmann

NASW Memorial and Tribute Fund

Cudore Snell in memory of Dr. Betsy Clark, Lann Thompson in memory of Dr. Betsy Clark, Anonymous in memory of Ronald T. Tucker

Planned Giving (to Foundation General Fund)

Jaye Ruth Friedman-Levy via the Beatrice and Leon Friedman Charitable Foundation,

Charles and Davida Wittman Adelberg in memory of Milton Wittman via the Fidelity Charitable Donor Advised Fund

NASW Public Education Campaign

Joanne Cruz Tenery (monthly)

Professional SW Pins

University of Arkansas, University of Arkansas at Monticello, Radford University, Sacred Heart University

NASW Social Work Pioneers® Fund

Karen Bullock, Charles Howard in memory of Jim Evans, Jr., Marcus Garvey Battle, and Barbara White, Esther Langston in memory of Dean Millie Charles

Learning Springboard Endowment

Clarence Chan