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Annual Meeting Highlights Unique Role for Social Workers in Addressing Immigration
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Annual Meeting Highlights Unique Role for Social Workers in Addressing Immigration
Dr. Marta Vega Inspires Cross Cultural Exchange

June 2008

NASW-NYC held a successful and inspiring Annual Meeting on May 15, addressing the dual themes of “Resilience and Immigration” and “Knitting the Threads of Family, Community and Culture.” Rose Starr, DSW, President of NASW-NYC, presided over the meeting.

Keynote Speaker

Bea Hanson, Board Member and Annual Meeting Planning Committee Chair, introduced the keynote speaker, Dr. Marta Moreno Vega, Founder and President of the Franklin H. Williams Caribbean Cultural Center/African Diaspora Institute in Manhattan and author of When the Spirits Dance Mambo, a personal memoir of growing up in Spanish Harlem/El Barrio and the Bronx. Dr. Vega was Acting Director of the Latin American and Caribbean Studies Program at Hunter College. She is presently an Adjunct Professor teaching Afro-Caribbean Religions and Afro-Latinos in New York City at Hunter College.

Dr. Vega underscored that the number of immigrants settling in New York City has been a significant factor in changing the ethnic and racial composition of local communities as well as the consumer and professional base of our major social service delivery systems. Dr. Vega noted that this vast and growing diversity has become one of the city’s greatest strengths and that, culture, one of the byproducts of this thriving immigration, is a critical thread that connects us all. She said that “culture is also like a piece of fabric, rich and textured, and an experience that’s textured is resilient.”

She added that social work is equally textured and resilient, and that social work will help communities transcend their differences and to address human need. Nevertheless, while seeing the strengths of the profession, Dr. Vega warned that the profession must be resilient. “We are in a changing field and similar to culture, at the point that it becomes static, it dies”, she said. She said that there may be practices that social workers engage in which do not reflect cultural competence.

Dr. Vega praised NASW-NYC for its leadership and history, noting how impressive it was that NASW’s Code of Ethics reflects the principles of the 2001 Declaration of the UN, including social justice, cultural diversity and the right to equity and equality. She cautioned social workers that they must not forget that these principles exist as they work in communities with diverse populations. Dr. Vega said the role of social work practitioners is to positively influence how the world sees its humanity.

Whether traveling to Africa, Cuba, Brazil, Trinidad, Haiti, Puerto Rico or returning to do work in East Harlem or the Bronx, Dr. Vega said that she continues to see connections across race and cultures. She reminded social workers of the commonalities and shared experiences that exist between all groups no matter what their background, as humans and as descendents with international history and reality. “Most of the folks here in the US made the journey by force or for economic or political reasons”, said Dr. Vega. “As a result, we all share a history. We all have international histories.” Describing her own family experiences being raised by immigrant parents, she asked, “How is it possible that we still have this dichotomy of dominance, that one way or group is perceived as better than the other? This country has been built on the backs of folks like my parents who have come from other places. We are all ‘the other’ and we are all human.” Dr. Vega made the observation that educational systems have been used to oppress and divide groups. She said that “we all came here to America looking for an opportunity, an opportunity that was denied some because of language differences, colonization, and oppression”. She said that our educational systems have been used in part to destroy the cultures of indigenous peoples, and the schools of social work need to address these issues in their curriculum.

Dr. Vega challenged social workers to think about the role that they play in sensitizing communities to their connections, rather than the differences that divide them. As social workers she said, “we share an imperative to make the world a better place, and a part of this responsibility means engaging students and the young people in our lives in conversations that raise their consciousness and activism around the social justice issues affecting the world.”

Dr. Vega discussed the need for social workers to be prepared to play an increasing role in helping the most vulnerable among immigrant populations to navigate and transcend the complex realities of the future. She also addressed the importance of spirituality as a connecting thread for all groups and as a vehicle that can help support social workers in addressing the complex human and social justice needs of the world.

Executive Director’s Address

NASW-NYC Executive Director, Dr. Robert Schachter, reported on the Chapter’s efforts to bring attention to overly restrictive requirements related to licensing. He also touched on concerns regarding working conditions and talked about strategies being used to support the connections and sense of community growing among new professionals and emerging leaders. He highlighted the initiative undertaken this year to expand loan forgiveness, citing that Chapter leaders successfully lobbied the State Senate and Governor’s office to grant an additional $1 million, making Social Worker Loan Forgiveness a $2 million program. Following his remarks, Dr. Schachter joined President Elect, Dr. Patricia Brownell, and Annual Meeting Committee Chair, Bea Hanson, in presenting a special recognition to Dr. Rose Starr, whose term as Board President ends in June, for her exemplary leadership and service to the Chapter.

Chapter Service Award

Mary Pender Greene, LCSW, Assistant Executive Director of the Jewish Board of Family and Children’s Services, was presented with the 2008 Chapter Service Award for her outstanding contributions to NASW-NYC. While serving as President of the NASW-NYC Board of Directors from 2004 to 2006, Ms. Pender Greene brought perspective to the chapter ranging from clinical practice and group work to supervision and administration. As a respected leader in supporting the development of social workers, she articulated the need for human service programs to be run by social workers. She brought an extensive network of colleagues to the Chapter and new social workers into membership and leadership positions. As one of the founding members of the Anti-Racist Alliance, she also helped to introduce NASW-NYC to training in Undoing Racism, bringing white social workers and people of color together to understand the historic and structural aspects of racism. Ms. Pender Greene also demonstrated a strong commitment to enhancing the image of the profession and helped to create the Social Work Image Awards that the Chapter presents annually.

2008 Social Work Image Award Recipient Alejandro Barro. Mr. Barro has been working to end homelessness at the Department of Homeless Services since the 1990s and serves as Acting Assistant Commissioner for Adult Family Transitional Services. Mr. Barro oversees 18 shelters housing over 1,000 families per night and has reduced the number of families in the system by 26%. During his career, he has provided services to individuals and families, offered supervision to staff and students, and developed and managed new policy and program models. He is recognized for being an effective supervisor and for bringing social work values and empathy to all aspects of his work. Alex’s dedication and unwavering commitment has assisted hundreds of families to live independent lives back home in their communities.

2008 Social Work Image Award Recipient Sandy Bernabei. Ms. Bernabei is one of the founders of the Anti-Racist Alliance (ARA). She has worked tirelessly for years, to keep this matter in the forefront of the national community and the NASW agenda. Her commitment to promoting the mission of the People’s Institute for Survival and Beyond (PISAB) and the perpetuation of its platform, the Undoing Racism Workshop, has culminated in the very impressive result and training of over 2,000 people in the tri-state area. Ms. Bernabei’s efforts to bring an end to racial oppression and discrimination, her fight to have the Rockefeller Drug Laws repealed, the message of liberation with her students at Fordham and her countless speaking presentations, has evidenced her commitment to this vital work.

2008 Social Work Image Award Recipient Elizabeth Lee. Ms. Lee is the Intergenerational Volunteers and Community Coordinator for VISIONS/Services for the Blind and Visually Impaired, which matches sighted NYC high school students with blind and visually impaired seniors. In this capacity, Ms. Lee has demonstrated excellence in both administration and practice, including outstanding therapeutic, support group, transportation, counseling and benefits assistance. VISIONS received a 2008 Snapple award “The Best People in NYC” for the intergenerational program, due in part to Elizabeth’s dedication to this program. Additionally, her outreach in the Chinese American communities in New York has helped to bring vision rehabilitation services to this under-served population.

2008 Student Award Recipients

Each year, NASW-NYC presents awards to graduating MSWs from schools of social work throughout New York City. Associate Executive Director, Athena Moore, presented special acknowledgements to this year’s honorees, including six honorees:

Katherine Barrow (New York University Silver School of Social Work)

Cory Jones (Columbia University School of Social Work)

Adena Bieber Kaplan (Yeshiva University Wuzweiler School of Social Work)

Tyrone Parchment (Hunter College School of Social Work)

Maya Tsekenis (Fordham University Graduate School of Social Service).

The Georgia McMurray Award, which is a special award named in memory of the former Chapter President and Commissioner of the Agency for Child Development and given to one student city-wide across the schools of social work for outstanding work in children and family services, was presented to Nichelle Roberts, of the Columbia University School of Social Work. Several students were presented with the NASW student award at the graduation ceremonies of their respective schools of social work.

Special Acknowledgements

In addition, among those recognized were Commissioner Robert Hess, Deputy Commissioner Fran Winter and Mary Anne Schretzman of the NYC Department of Homeless Services, Dr. Peter Vaughn, Dean of Fordham University Graduate School of Social Services, Michael Stoller, Executive Director of the Human Services Council, past presidents of NASW-NYC, Social Work Pioneers, New Professionals, candidates running for NASW-NYC offices, and the able NASW NYC staff.


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