Mary Jo Kinzie, the executive director of the NASW Oklahoma Chapter, has a passion for jazz music. But after figuring that a career in music may not pay the bills, she felt social work was a good fit, too.
In college, Kinzie began her higher education by pursuing sociology, and she soon found out that social work had a stronger calling for her.
“I started taking social work classes while still studying sociology and I could very clearly see that the hands-on part of social work was much more interesting to me,” Kinzie, MSW, said. “One thing led to another as I proceeded with the education part of my BSW.”
Kinzie said she always felt a passion toward social problems, and how they affect families. Being especially intrigued with poverty issues, Kinzie felt this was an avenue she most wanted to follow. In 1980, she accepted a role with the Oklahoma Department of Human Services where she largely worked with families receiving Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, or TANF, benefits. Kinzie worked in the Tulsa County and Oklahoma state offices, and remained with OK-DHS until her executive director role with NASW-Oklahoma started in January 2012.
Now at the helm of the chapter, Kinzie is focused on getting the word out about social work throughout the state of Oklahoma in order to build awareness and set the foundation for attracting more members.
“We’re largely a rural state but everyone gravitates towards Tulsa and Oklahoma City,” she said. “It’s about getting more information out there ... who social workers are and what they do, and that we do this because we want to.”
Kinzie also is working with schools of social work in her state, as she feels students like to be involved in their community.
“Students are extremely intrigued and interested and wanting to be involved,” she said. “We hope to engage more of them through outright recognition and to keep them in the loop of what happens with legislature.”
While Kinzie is fairly new to the ED position, she has been with NASW throughout her career. From being a beginner volunteer to chapter president for the Oklahoma Chapter, Kinzie sees herself as having the right background to reach a wide social work audience.
“This is a good opportunity for me to bring in the voice of the everyday social worker,” she said. “I want to get a higher profile for the chapter, build recognition and have a voice. My hope is we not only maintain, but we grow and we get people over here.”
Editor’s note: This is part of an ongoing series of profiles on NASW’s newest chapter executive directors.