A few cans of SpaghettiOs always make it into the cart when Mark Fairchild goes grocery shopping with his 10-year-old son.
Fairchild, executive director of the NASW Indiana Chapter, said he regularly buys items to donate to the local food banks, and SpaghettiOs remind him of a family he helped while originally studying to be a teacher.
“One child was overcome with joy at getting a brand-name can of SpaghettiOs at a food bank,” he said. “ … That memory stays with me today.”
Fairchild said he voluntarily developed programs and outreach during his early-education practicum to help the students he encountered.
He had a small group of children and their families that he helped connect to the community resources they needed. Having grown up in a small Michigan town that was poor and low on resources, Fairchild found he could easily relate to the kids in need.
He was a social worker all along, but just didn’t know it yet, he said.
“I found I was focusing on the kids at the back of the classroom who were struggling, and I was spending a great deal of time working with them, being sure they got what they needed and they were fed properly,” Fairchild said. “That’s where the idea of going into social work nudged at me. I knew I needed to work in a broader setting than what being a teacher would allow.”
After switching from teaching to psychology, Fairchild finished his undergraduate work and went on to pursue his MSW at Ohio State University.
He found himself in Indiana, where he said he saw a lot of opportunities to put his social work skills to use. Indiana was a little bit behind in terms of social services offerings, he said, and in the way it viewed people with needs.
“I already had an understanding of how families and children interfaced in the community, and, for me, I always like to go fill in where there is a void,” Fairchild said. “Indiana didn’t have the right things in place, but its eyes were open.”
Fairchild has been executive director of the Indiana Chapter for about a year, and said member outreach is a top priority. The chapter is effectively reaching out to members to let them know of services being offered, and to assure them they can feel free to call whenever they need assistance.
“There are a thousand things NASW can help members with; people aren’t as quick to reach out, so we’re advertising more what we can do for members,” he said. “We can do consultations, talk about barriers members are having, HIPAA, give someone startup advice, talk to a student having problems with a practicum professor. Instead of just saying the door is always open, we’re pushing it out where we do the reaching out first.”
It’s a big change, he said, as many folks are so busy that they forget the flexibility NASW does have in supporting its members.
“The things folks can spend months on emailing can be cleared with a quick phone call,” Fairchild said. “Some people aren’t quite used to calling first, and they might spend the first couple minutes of a phone call apologizing for disturbing us. But these are exactly the calls we want to get.”
He said the chapter’s goal is to have more of a complete package where all of the members are aware of everything that can be done for them. Fairchild is also building momentum to make nonmember social workers aware of NASW benefits. The chapter is offering an open-door experience for nonmembers to attend activities for a nominal fee so they can network, talk to current members, and see firsthand what the chapter is all about, he said.
“Often it’s seen that associations and loyalty are a thing of the past,” he said. “When we show loyalty first, we will grow as a result.”
Fairchild also wants to build member benefits that are in line with the current generation, and this is a main area the chapter is working on.
“It’s difficult for some to go to a full-day symposium, and we’re looking to create networking opportunities that are outside more formal processes,” he said. “We’ve also shifted a lot of our meetings where it’s a teleconference option instead of people coming in from all over the state and having to take time off work.”
Fairchild said that during his tenure as executive director, he has gained a remarkable amount of respect for NASW as an organization and what all the social workers from different backgrounds do.
And he wants to make sure the Indiana Chapter helps its members in any way it can.
“As social workers, we often don’t give ourselves much credit for anything we do,” he said. “We need to congratulate ourselves on the small victories, because it really can make a difference. It’s in social work that change can really be made.”
Editor’s note: This is part of an ongoing series of profiles of NASW’s new chapter executive directors.