NASW-NYC Leaders Share Their Personal Reflections
What Does it Mean to You to be a Social Worker?
What is the Relevance, in Your Career, of Membership in NASW?
Staying in touch with your reasons for becoming a social worker and celebrating your accomplishments can be important components of professional self-care. Connecting with other social workers to share those stories is one of the things NASW-NYC is about.
Below, several members of the Chapter’s Board of Directors reflect on how they got into the field and describe some of their proudest moments as social workers. They also share their personal reasons for joining NASW and the ways in which their participation in the Association helps nourish and sustain their vision, both for themselves and for the profession.
Martha Adams Sullivan
There is No Way to Describe the Fulfillment of
Accomplishing the Unattainable
Martha Adams Sullivan, DSW, Executive Director, FordhamTremont CMHC - NASW-NYC President-Elect
For me, social work is completely congruent with my life experience and my world view. Coming from a working class/poor family and being a woman in an oppressed racial minority group, understanding people in the context of their environments is in my bones. I come from a tradition of people supporting each other and struggling against negative forces. I get that supporting and empowering families and addressing the conditions that negatively impinge upon them is critical.
I have always involved myself in advocacy work in addition to clinical/direct service and administration. My most rewarding accomplishments include client/family successes, advocacy successes and the development of innovative new programs. It’s all about change, change for the better.
There’s no way to describe the fulfillment derived when you are a part of a change for the better, be it an individual or family, a professional team or a community, accomplishing something together that at first, perhaps, may have seemed unattainable. For me, it’s as rewarding as developing a successful mental health program such as the Center for Older Adults and Their Families when no one thought elders or people with chronic mental illness could really benefit from, or were worthy of, clinical work. Similarly rewarding is developing other specialized mental health services such as our new Women and Families Center, our Midlife and Older Adults Service or our Men’s Service at Fordham-Tremont. Our MLK Day of Service where clients and staff work together to provided donated goods to those in need is just an awesome experience. I am equally proud of the work of the Citywide Mental Health Coalition for the Black Elderly, an advocacy group I founded, and the Lazarus Project, a ministry of consolation developed to support bereaved families.
If there’s something you feel that needs to change, get involved in NASW. It’s a great opportunity to work with others applying your social work skills on behalf of clients and our profession. Give us a call.
Paying Attention to the Tug of My Heart and Courageously
Being the Change Agent
Gwendolyn Butler, LMSW - NASW-NYC First Vice President
I remember the day it crystallized for me, a career in social work. It was the ‘Aha’ moment that made sense for me as a total being. I chose social work to professionally refine the person that I was maturing into. I wanted to help, to advocate, to lead, and to be a voice for those who had none. I wanted to be an agent for healing and for change. And with my social work degree I have been, and continue to be, able to function in all of these capacities at work, and at home. It is a versatile degree with a skill set not only appropriate for, but essential for the work of an activist, an advocate, an organizer, and a healer. I am proud to be a social worker, equipped and ready with the tools necessary to work on a large community level, and on the most intimate individual level. In my most rewarding moments I am grateful for depth of insight and process, which have come through healing work in this field. It is in those moments I feel full with potential and reignited to keep on keeping on. In my most frustrating moments, I am internally challenged to courageously do something, say something, be the change agent. It is in those moments I learn the most and continue to be refined. Being a social worker to me, means paying attention to the tug of my heart, the opportunity to answer the call for help, for leadership, and for healing.
My leadership and relationship with NASW have always gone hand in hand with my career in the field of Social Work. I do not know one without the other. I was active in the field and with NASW as a student and remained so after graduation and throughout my professional growth. In truth, I could not imagine having one relationship without the other. NASW introduced me to the big picture in the field; the issues pertaining to and impacting ALL social workers. NASW also kept me connected with peers and pioneers, which fostered many of the invaluable relationships I have today. I do not foresee a separation between NASW and myself as a professional; NASW is and will continue to be my professional home.
Aspiring to Help People Besieged with Disequilibrium
Thomas Sedgwick, LCSW, Director of Social Work, NYU Langone Medical Center - NASW-NYC Second Vice President
I became a social worker out of a curiosity about human nature and an aspiration to help people besieged with some kind of disequilibrium. I have always had an interest in the psychosocial aspects of people’s lives and have felt empathy for, and even identification with, disenfranchised populations. As a hospital social worker, it has been rewarding for me to develop an ecological perspective of patients and illness; focusing not only on the physical corollary of disease, but also on illness’s impact on a person’s overall functioning. I am most proud of work that I have done with homeless patients, isolated elderly, and people affected by psychiatric illness. I am also proud to have worked for two of the country’s preeminent academic medical centers and very impressed by the extremely caring and dedicated staff that I have managed. I am a member of NASW to benefit from the positive fission created through bringing together a group of “change agents,” and I want to be involved in advocating for our profession and for the populations that we serve.
Seeing NASW as the Front Door to the Profession
Kevin Lotz, LCSW, CASAC, ACSW, Director, Trinity Place - NASW-NYC Third Vice President
I first knew I wanted to become a social worker when I was in the 7th grade. I was very involved in community service. My older cousin, already a professional social worker, learned of this while we visited that Christmas. She told me about social work. I understood social work to be the professional practice and pursuit of social justice. From that moment on, I knew social work was precisely where I belonged.
I appreciate the myriad opportunities that exist within social work. Innumerable fields of practice and specialties are available. There are opportunities to create new programs, or even organizations. There are opportunities to engage in research, politics, administration, writing, teaching, training, community organizing, program evaluation and much more.
I believe there is no better exemplar of the opportunities available in social work than NASW. NASW-NYC members are social workers from all conceivable “walks of life.” To me, NASW is the front door to the social work profession. My BSW academic advisor showed me to this door during my freshmen year of college. Participating in NASW during my BSW was fundamental to my development as a social worker. I met real people who embodied what I was striving to become.
I believe NASW is where the best of social work intersects. Once one arrives at the “front door,” it is where opportunities for support, collaboration, training and activism exist. It is the “social work town square,” where all meet and unite: front-line social workers from the trenches of direct practice, social work researchers, professors, administrators, students, new professionals and senior social workers. Yet, in all such contexts, what remains of paramount importance is that each of us stops whatever we are doing and shows a new social worker to this front door. Welcome them. Encourage them. Mentor them.
Nancy D. Miller
Discovering the Field While an Undergrad, Then Finding
NASW as the “Home” for Addressing All the “isms”
Nancy D. Miller, LMSW, ACSW, Executive Director/CEO, VISIONS/ Services for the Blind and Visually Impaired - NASW-NYC Secretary
While a college student at Cornell University, I had my first work experience under an executive director who was a social worker. After that great summer job with people of all ages who were blind, I decided to become a social worker. I was drawn to the focus on the person in their environment, the ability to influence change and the collaboration between social workers and their clients. At Columbia University School of Social Work, I learned how to use myself through conscious and purposeful interventions. My subsequent studies at Hunter College School of Social Work gave me a depth of knowledge in both policy and administration. I am proud to be training the next generation by supervising social work interns for the past 30 years. The NYC Chapter of NASW as been my "home" for addressing discrimination and all the "isms." NASW is not only a "safe" venue for tackling tough policy choices, but also where I celebrate the practice of the profession with my peers. I made many friends in gerontological social work through chairing and participating in NASW's Gerontology Committee This is my second time serving on the NYC Chapter Board. The responsibility is enormous but satisfying as we impact government programs, decision makers, agencies, the clients we serve and funding for the services that are critical.
Reuniting Chronically Ill Patients with Their Loved Ones,
Protecting the Abused Child, Helping Someone Die
Andy Benejam, LCSW-R, MPA, Director of Social Work Department, Bronx Lebanon Hospital - NASW-NYC Member-At-Large
As a Puerto Rican male born and raised in Puerto Rico, and subsequently immigrating to New York City as an adult, I embraced the social work profession because it made sense to learn about what I could do for others. The social work profession helped me understand myself by gaining insight into human behavior and how change shapes us and helps us succeed in empowering others. Working in healthcare as a social worker and currently as an administrator, I have witnessed the evolving roles of social workers and how their work is indispensable among other healthcare team members.
The most challenging moments have been working with limited resources, undocumented patients, and the global financial changes affecting payment for health care. Despite the challenges, the most gratifying moments are when I am able to reunite chronically ill patients with their loved ones in different parts of the world, when the abused children are taken under protective custody to protect them from further abuse and when the dying patient is able to die with dignity as a result of the interdisciplinary team’s effort to facilitate the patient's and family’s last wishes.
Creating jobs and running social work departments in two different hospitals and being the Hospital Emergency Preparedness Coordinator in one of them have been my biggest professional accomplishments. The two fields present unique challenges. These include working on grants, coordinating mass casualty drills, natural disaster planning and tending to the psychosocial needs of survivors. I have become a better administrator and learned to appreciate the undisputable hard work that first responders do.
I have been a member of NASW since 1989. Being a member means staying connected with the changes that affect our careers. Creating alliances with our diverse members resonates with our code of ethics and social work values.
A Journey From the 1960's to a “Love Affair”
With the Profession
Pinchas C. Berger, LCSW, Special Projects Coordinating Consultant, Jewish Board of Family and Children's Services - NASW-NYC Member-At-Large
The year was 1967, the War in Viet Nam was escalating, and I, a newly minted Social Studies Teacher, could not secure a teaching job due to the overabundance of candidates pursuing teaching positions at the time. So after a fruitless search in communities along the Northeast Coast, I applied for and accepted an offer to become a Caseworker with the NYC Welfare Department. And so began my journey and “love affair” with the profession of Social Work. After several years of working for the City, during which I received my MSW Degree, I migrated to JBFCS, where I have had the good fortune to engage in and experience the full range of activities that characterize the role of Social Worker including; Direct Service, Supervision, Administration/Management, Program Development, Community Organization, Teaching, and Consultation. These was also the time when I joined NASW to affirm my professional identity; secure ACSW designation; stay informed via the Social Work Journal, NASW News and Currents; and connect with colleagues by attending NASW-NYC events. Throughout my 40 year career I have had the privilege of contributing to the development and delivery of programs designed to serve a broad spectrum of individuals and family units striving to cope with the impact of mental illness and familial distress and dissolution; economic decline, poverty and homelessness; family violence; refugee and immigrant resettlement; HIV/AIDS; trauma; spiritual care and support; and more. Each of these opportunities has presented a challenge and every accomplishment has generated professional and personal fulfillment. And there is more to come.
From Simple Acts of Kindness to Standing in Opposition
to the Mayhem Generated by the 1%
Holly Fancher, MSW, Licensing Specialist and Program Coordinator, Silberman School of Social Work at Hunter College - NASW-NYC Member-At-Large
As a social worker, my values and principles are defined by my efforts to benefit both individuals and our larger society. For me, being a social worker includes everything from performing simple acts of kindness, to teaching and training, to engaging in various kinds of community development and political activity designed to improve our collective well-being. As a social worker, I push my values and principles forward when I competently, ethically and innovatively respond to people and problems.
As I see it, being a social worker means that I categorically stand in direct opposition to the mayhem being generated by the 1% as it eagerly continues to undermine the 99%. Social work is not simply concerned with an individual’s suffering; it also tackles the collective suffering of all human beings, irrespective of race, religion, culture, ethnicity or sexual orientation. As the amount of suffering foisted upon individuals, families, and communities continues to grow, I believe that social work’s commitment to the real needs of people is the focus that will reclaim our democracy.
As a social worker, I belong to the National Association of Social Workers (NASW) because it is our collective force for social, political and global change. While each of us can stand individually against the growing economic inequality, by merging our efforts we increase our resiliency. There is indeed strength in numbers, and at a time in which greed and corruption seem to dominate the national stage, NASW provides me with the additional support I need to promote the social, economic, political and cultural values that are compatible with the real needs of us all.
NASW Has Given Me the Gift of New Personal Relationships,
Not Only Colleagues but Really Good Friends
Ilene Marcus, MPA, MSSW, Chief of Staff, Metropolitan Council on Jewish Poverty - NASW-NYC Member-At-Large
I believe we are not measured by what we have, but by what we give to others. I live my life with that mantra so being a social worker was a natural choice for me. Almost 30 years ago I started working with seniors who had become homebound. For my entire career I have worked in poverty fighting agencies. I am most proud of the systemic changes I have been part of that led to a more cohesive safety net. But as you all know, there is much more work to be done. Being a member of NASW has enabled me to broaden my world and create new relationships that provide more professional resources and insight, and bolster my convictions about what is important and worth fighting for every day. NASW has also given me the gift of making new personal relationships - professionals with like-minded beliefs who I am honored to know, not only as colleagues, but friends - really good friends. These are extraordinary individuals who help make our City a better place for the isolated and needy everyday. I am proud to be part of this legacy.
Loving the Endless Options our Profession Provides
Susan Moritz, LCSW, Associate Director, Met Council, OHR - NASW-NYC Member-At-Large
In the late 1970’s, while in college, I worked as a counselor in an afterschool program for elementary school aged children. Divorced and single parent families were becoming more common, and the community in which I worked had good schools, affordable housing, and was becoming a Mecca for newly divorced families. I was drawn to the most troubled kids in the program and they connected with me. The program director was a social worker, and I found myself spending hours in her office trying to figure out how to respond to the “horror” stories the kids were sharing. Needless to say, I was hooked.
I love the endless options our profession provides. Over the years, I have worked with all ages in a multitude of agency settings. I’ve also worked as a consultant, had a private practice, participated and presented at conferences all over the country and taught on the graduate, undergraduate, and non-degree levels. What I find most rewarding about our profession is the opportunity to have an impact and make a difference in the lives of others. I like the fact that our profession is not stagnant and is always changing to address current social issues.
I first joined NASW in the early 1980s while I was a graduate student. When I announced that I planned to become a social worker, most people assumed I was going to be a “welfare worker.” I joined NASW because I believed that if social work was to be taken seriously as a profession, we needed a voice, and I believed that NASW, our professional organization was and is that voice. NASW membership has provided me with a wealth of information, professional resources and networking opportunities.
The Impact of a Wave, a Smile, Renewed Confidence -
A Client is Why I Am a Social Worker
Elizabeth Rogers, LCSW, Site Supervisor, The Children's Aid Society/ Bronx Preventive Services - NASW-NYC Member-At-Large
Recently, I had the opportunity to meet with a family who was close to finishing with our program. I was their original worker and saw that some things had changed while some things felt much the same. The daughters in the family were going to school while the sons were struggling with attendance and recent arrests.
At a home visit, I met with the young men to try to explore what has been going on with them. They had both been sleeping when I arrived and were woken up to meet with me. A TV was on in their room and their lamp was broken. As I sat with them, I worried that I was not saying the right thing and that they were simply listening to be polite. Quiet minutes ticked on. Something sparked in the older teen, though. He agreed to meet with me at my office the next week, then two days later, then the following week to get enrolled into a GED program. He started October 17th.
He is why I am a social worker and why I remain a social worker- this young man, his siblings, his mother, and other clients who have allowed me into their lives and into their homes. After his orientation, he came back to my office to tell me how it went. His face was truly lit up with pride. I walked him outside to get lunch and then waited a minute to make sure he made the bus home. As I stood on that corner and watched him wade into the crowded bus, I saw his arm extend in a wave, a smile on his face, reawakened confidence in himself. That one wave evened out any work stress I had been feeling. That one wave is something I came back to the rest of that week and beyond to keep me motivated and sustained.
With Prior Careers in Management,
I Discovered I Was a “Closet Social Worker”
Gail Siegal, Social Worker, Jewish Home LifeCare - NASW-NYC Member-At-Large
Social Work is my second, actually third or fourth career. I came to it out of my interest in issues of aging. I know it sounds silly, but I really didn’t know what a social worker did when I started graduate school. I cringe to admit it, but I thought social workers looked under beds for welfare cheaters, a view, I’m sorry to say, that is all too prevalent. I was thrilled to discover the many areas and skills Social Work covers, many of which I had been interested in all my life. I discovered that I had been a closet social worker, but never knew it. Coming to social work was like coming into myself.
For me, direct service was the way to go. My prior careers were managerial. This time I wanted to work directly with clients, instead of providing support to those who do. I work at a day center where most of my clients are elderly and do some additional fee for service work with elders in their homes. I love knowing that I make a difference in people’s lives.
I joined NASW to be part of a larger community of social workers. I wanted to be with others who were interested in the same things I was, who would understand my frustrations and triumphs, and from whom I could learn. I started out by joining the Gerontology Committee, which gave me the community I was looking for. Later I became interested in the larger organization and was fortunate to be elected to the Nominating Committee and later to the full Board as a member-at-large. I’ve met dedicated, caring people, passionate about their work and the people and issues they champion. I feel privileged to be a part of this community.