By Paul R. Pace
Having hope is important in completing any goal, says social worker and longtime NASW member Lawanna Barron, BCD, ACSW, LCSW.
Pictured: Lawanna Barron, left, hands a check to NASW CEO Anthony Estreet to establish a new student scholarship through the NASW Foundation.
When it came to finishing her education, Barron said she benefited from a handful of scholarships. The fact that people believed in her abilities offered her the hope she needed.
Now in retirement, Barron wants to give back like others gave to her. To accomplish this, she has established a social work student scholarship endowment through the NASW Foundation.
Barron says her endowment will help fund the education of one BSW student and one MSW student with demonstrated interest in — or experience with — working in rural settings and/or health and mental health in African American communities.
“Years ago, one of the things I wanted to do was leave a legacy for social workers,” says Barron, who recently retired after 29 years with the Moody Air Force Base Family Advocacy Program in Georgia. She served as the Family Advocacy Treatment manager from 1993 to 2000; the Family Advocacy Outreach manager from 2000 to 2019; and as Family Advocacy Intervention Specialist from 2019 to 2022.
“The reason I set up the endowment is, No. 1, I love the National Association of Social Workers,” she says, adding that her appreciation for NASW goes back to her days as a social work student. After graduating from Valdosta High School in Valdosta, Ga., Barron received her bachelor’s degree in sociology from Valdosta State College. She proceeded to earn her MSW from the University of Georgia. One of her social work professors explained how NASW works, and Barron says she joined right away.
She got a practicum placement at the Medical College of Georgia in the Department of Psychiatry. “I was one of a few social workers at the University of Georgia that got that opportunity to work alongside psychiatry residents and psychology interns,” she says.
“While I was there, NASW became part of my foundation and part of my family.”
“My first job in the federal system was at the Tuskegee VA (in Alabama),” Barron says. “Then I moved to Montgomery, so I went to NASW meetings in Montgomery.”
That was followed by a job at the Moody Air Force Base. When she moved back to her home state, she gathered with social workers to form the South Georgia Unit of the NASW Chapter in Valdosta, Ga., so that they could earn CEs and have a support system. Barron’s devotion to NASW extends beyond just attending meetings, however. Her volunteer leadership positions are numerous.
She served two terms on the NASW national board of directors, including national secretary from 2010 to 2013 and Region VI Representative for chapters in Alabama, Georgia, Florida, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Mississippi from 2005 to 2008. She also served on the NASW Foundation’s Awards Committee from 2016 to 2019. Barron is a former president of the NASW Georgia Chapter and was a trustee of the NASW Legal Defense Fund. She attends yearly NASW-Georgia conferences. She currently is the secretary for the NASW Assurance Services board of directors.
Brian Williams, acting assistant director at the NASW Foundation, and a social worker himself, says Barron’s endowment is important because well-qualified social workers in rural settings are hard to find, despite a heightened need for their expertise.
“Lawanna’s scholarships will help uplift students committed to meeting rural mental health challenges head-on,” Williams says. “With Lawanna’s support, it will help a whole new group of leaders. It does make a huge difference to be supported and to have one’s work validated in this way.”
“NASW has been my true rock, my foundation,” Barron says. “I honor everything about its existence since 1955 when all the (social work) organizations came together to form one organization.”
She also knows the need for rural social workers having grown up in a tight-knit community where people tended to talk to one another about their problems on a bench outside the family store. “I come from a rural area,” she says.
One of her professors, Dr. Lettie Lockhart at the University of Georgia School of Social Work, told her, “When you make it, promise you will come back here and help others.”
“That was instilled in me from when I first entered that program,” Barron says, and she hopes her gift will have a ripple effect, leading the scholarship recipients to help other students later on.
“I am thankful to God to be retired after almost 30 years of federal service, and that I can go in and make a legacy for social work,” she says. “This is something I always wanted to do. It all connects to this: We have to provide hope and compassion.”
The younger generation of social workers is eager to do new things, she believes. “We have to give them what they need. We have got to invest in a brand-new generation. I want to do my part — to give them hope that, ‘Hey, you can do this.’”
In addition to her NASW Foundation endowment, Barron also has set up endowment funds at UGA School of Social Work and the Department of Social Work at Tuskegee University, formerly known as the Tuskegee Institute, a private, historically Black land-grant university in Tuskegee, Ala.
Barron also is supporting six NASW Foundation Lyons scholars to attend the NASW Leadership Summit, taking place this June.
“I learned early on how to listen to people and learned about listening and solving problems the old-fashioned way,” she says. “That, and my spiritual belief system and growing up in the church.”
With many people facing so many challenges today, Barron believes social work is needed more than ever.
“This is a pivotal moment for the social work profession because this time represents everything we have been trained for and everything we believe in,” she says.
“We are about change and helping people process through change to get through these difficult times — to have hope, to have compassion, to make things better.”
There are people still locked in their homes, dealing with isolation and depression from the pandemic, she says. It can seem like society and cultures are moving too rapidly. People are being financially challenged. Jobs, transportation, housing — the rates have gone up, she says. Combined with global warming, people are facing more and more pressure.
“This is our time,” Barron says.
Learn more about the NASW Foundation and ways to donate at NASWFoundation.org.