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Celebrating Social Work Pioneers
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Celebrating Social Work Pioneers
Recognizing the Contributions of Longtime Members Enriching and Shaping the Profession

Tom Sedgwick, LCSW-R, CCM, Administrative Supervisor, Department of Social Work, NYU Langone Medical Center, Treasurer, NASW-NYC Board of Directors

December/January 2009


On September 17th our Chapter held a reception at the Hunter College School of Social Work to celebrate the contributions and achievements of more than 75 local Social Work Pioneers. While our Chapter concentrates considerable effort on the crucial task of developing future generations of social workers, we also recognize the prominence of our rich past and the importance of the individuals that have so greatly contributed to the body of social work theory and practice. The Pioneer program was developed several years ago by the National Association of Social Workers Foundation (NASWF).

The Pioneer program honors social workers whose significant contributions have advanced and enriched the profession. The etymology of the word “pioneer” is from the French “pionnier,” referring to a foot soldier – which is a fitting description for this group of trailblazers who are invaluable to promoting the social work profession.

The NASWF website lists close to 640 Pioneers; 13% of that distinguished group comes from the New York metropolitan area. In little more than one hundred years, the social work profession has flourished with New York City at the nexus. From the establishment of the world’s first professional school of social work to advancements in health/mental health care, child welfare, academia and community development; from the Industrial Revolution to the New Deal and the Great Society Programs of the 1960s, to present day social justice policy and programming - social workers from New York City have led the way. Our chapter has reason to be proud, with many of our long-standing members instrumental in shaping the profession in a way that has improved the human condition.

Dr. Helen Rehr has played a crucial role in organizing local Pioneers; her determination and vision resulted in the formation of a NYC Chapter Pioneers Committee. The committee is focused on studying, distilling and distributing the kind of specialized expertise that catapulted these social workers into leadership positions in all practice areas.

One such endeavor is the intergenerational “mentoring” events that they have organized with the Chapter’s New Professionals Task Force. At Dr. Rehr’s suggestion, the Pioneers hope to continue annually. However, they hope that the reception will evolve into a learning event at which Pioneers can formally present their ideas and offer other social workers the benefit of their wise counsel.

September’s reception was very well attended and was graciously co-sponsored by the local schools of social work (Columbia, Hunter, NYU, and Wurzweiler). Dr. Robert Schachter, Executive Director of the Chapter and Dr. Patricia Brownell, our President (and also a Pioneer) spoke about the Chapter’s good fortune in having access to the knowledge and guidance of so many Pioneers. They also both referred to Dr. Rehr’s dedication and her insistence that this group remain relevant to the future of social work.

Dr. Betsy Vourlekis from the Washington, D.C. area was sent as a representative of the National Pioneer Steering Committee; on their behalf she congratulated all of the Pioneers and discussed the influence of the delegation from the New York metropolitan area. Dr. Schachter also read a congratulatory letter from the Executive Director of the National office of NASW, Dr. Betsy Clark. Dr. Clark wrote about the importance of the NASWF and the key role that Pioneers play in representing our profession.

Dr. Rehr was presented with a plaque listing all of the Pioneers (to date) in the New York metropolitan area. The large plaque (which has plenty of room for more names) is prominently displayed in the Chapter’s executive board room. Dr. Rehr humbly accepted the plaque on behalf of the Chapter’s Pioneers Committee, acknowledging that this is an appropriate time to celebrate achievements, but reminding the group that there remains important work to be done to further fortify the Chapter and the profession.

The planning committee for this event included Pioneers Dr. Patricia Brownell and Dr. Elaine Congress, as well as Board members Tom Sedgwick and Aminda Heckman-Jacobs.


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