NASW Foundation at 20: Assistance Fund Aids Social Workers in Need After Disaster Strikes

By Paul R. Pace

Social workers are known for helping people recover following a disaster, and the NASW Social Work Disaster Assistance Fund is there to aid social workers who themselves have been impacted by disasters.

The Social Work Disaster Assistance Fund, administered by the NASW Foundation, has raised desperately needed dollars from generous NASW members, NASW chapters, friends, partners, and other donors, to assist in relief efforts.

NASW established the fund to provide assistance to those affected by disasters not only in the United States, but around the world. The fund has aided countless social workers impacted by hurricanes, tsunamis, flooding, earthquakes, wildfires, and the Ebola epidemic.

The Foundation solicits and disperses fund donations, which are awarded to social workers and/or social welfare organizations that can provide assistance to those who have suffered loss, and are in need of financial or other assistance due to a disaster.

Hurricanes Irma and Maria

natural disaster Hurricane Irma

One of the best examples of the how the Disaster Assistance Fund works is when two Category 5 hurricanes slammed the U.S. Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico in 2017. It was one of the worst Atlantic hurricane seasons on record.

In response, nearly 250 NASW members, friends, companies, and organizations donated about $30,000 to the relief effort.

Jim Akin, executive director of the NASW Florida and U.S. Virgin Islands chapters, noted the fund helped by supplying solar phone chargers and other items, as well as monetary checks, to members.

“They really appreciated it,” Akin said of recipients. “With the Disaster Fund, we were able to supply funding or services or both to members. It was a great help.”

The hurricanes caused “complete disruption,” Akin said. “Social workers were not able to work. People couldn’t pay their dues—it was such a mess not being able to work.”

Similarly, social workers in the NASW Puerto Rico Chapter also were devastated. Chapter president at the time of the hurricanes, Abigail Martinez-Rivera, said they changed their annual program to focus mainly on educational activities for social workers and social work students following the historic hurricanes.

Griselles Acosta-Hernandez, Puerto Rico chapter president after the hurricanes, joined Martinez-Rivera in saying the disaster fund helped them in a “timely and extraordinary way.”

The Foundation and NASW provided emotional support to colleagues who had faced adversity and also supported the chapter’s annual professional conference in March 2018. Subsequently, the Foundation sent out individual stipend checks from the disaster fund for each member of the Puerto Rico Chapter, along with a solar mobile phone charger.

“Besides being extremely surprised, we are very grateful for their support and solidarity,” Acosta-Hernandez and Martinez-Rivera said. “Social workers in Puerto Rico are always looking out for the most disadvantaged persons. They will look out for their neighbors, communities, family and friends, even when they may be in need. They are very resilient and will always serve with deep commitment and a full heart.”

Akin said the Foundation and its efforts have been a great asset to the profession.

“I hope they can continue to grow,” he said. “Every association needs a foundation. Education support is where they started, and it’s been a major push for the profession over the years. I think it’s very helpful.”

California Fires

Another example of how the Disaster Assistance Fund makes a difference is the Camp Fire in California, which proved to be the deadliest and most destructive wildfire in the state’s history.

The 2018 disaster caused 85 deaths and destroyed more than 14,000 homes and businesses.

Social worker Gary Bess was among those impacted. The building where he ran his macro consulting firm, Gary Bess Associates, in Paradise, Calif., burned to the ground. Fortunately, the company’s 14 employees, including four with MSWs, were safe. However, five of his employees lost their homes due to the fire.

Bess was among several California social workers who were given checks from the Social Work Disaster Assistance Fund at the time to help recover from the fire damage.

NASW Foundation workshop in Virgin Islands

“We were touched by it,” Bess said, speaking of the check. “It was unexpected. I put it into the business to add to our business revenue. We had clients that made contributions (as well). There was a transition period (during the recovery) where there was a possible dip in revenue so it was touching. It’s nice to have that recognition and thoughtfulness on part of the national organization.”

The Disaster Assistance Fund also has aided social workers after the following disasters:

  • The Louisiana flooding in 2016
  • The Ebola epidemic in 2014-2016
  • The Japan earthquake in 2011
  • The Haiti earthquake in 2010
  • Hurricane Katrina in Louisiana and New Orleans in 2005
  • The Indian Ocean Tsunami in Indonesia in 2004
  • The Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

Look for additional articles about NASW Foundation programs in upcoming issues of Social Work Advocates as the Foundation celebrates its 20 years this year. Learn more about the NASW Foundation at and the Social Work Disaster Assistance Fund here.

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 April 19. All donors are listed at

NASW Foundation General Fund

Charmaine Ashcraft, Marisa Boatman, Julie Black, Eva Dillon, Tricia Bent-Goodley, Susan Faber-Brook, Martha Frost, Gabriel Montes, Catharine Ralph, Hanna Smith, Joanne Cruz Tenery (monthly)

Social Work Disaster Assistance Fund

Byrd-Borland Foundation in memory of James (Jim) Borland, David Nelson

NASW Public Education Campaign:

Keith Blackwell, Andrew Jah, April Lee, Joanne Cruz Tenery (monthly)

NASW Public Education Campaign

Professional SW Pins:

Anna Maria College, Angelo State University, Campbellsville University-Kentucky, Concordia University Wisconsin, Grand Valley State University, Indiana State University, Monmouth University, Mississippi Valley State University, Northwestern Oklahoma State University, Pacific Oaks College, Providence College, Radford University, Rhode Island College, Rutgers University, Sacred Heart University, Texas Christian University, University of Arkansas, University of Southern Mississippi, Xavier University

Planned Giving Fund:

Charles and Davida Adelberg Foundation of Fidelity Charitable in memory of Milton Wittman, Mavis and Robert Connolly via Merrill Lynch

cover of magazine, Drug Decriminalization, person sitting in oversized open handcuffs, holding hands with another person

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