Social work celebration


SUMMARY: The annual Social Work Celebration brings together social work students and faculty to celebrate the achievements of outstanding individuals within the department and the field of social work at large.

By: Trudy Horsting
Creative Services Student Writer

PHOTO: SW students

The annual Social Work Celebration brought together students from all stages in the major to celebrate the achievements of outstanding individuals in the department and the field of social work at large. The night included poster presentations from students, a keynote speaker, scholarship presentations, inductions for the Phi Alpha academic honor association and an award ceremony.  This event is organized by the Social Work Organization (SWO) executive board, an entirely student-run service organization. Cindy Hunter, JMU social work professor and adviser for the SWO, emphasizes the essential contribution of board members Julia Hess, Sara Brannon, Kyra Miller, Juliana Biggs, Jessi Mason and Bry Sniadecki to the 2017 celebration’s success. 

The SWO chose water as the theme for the night, naming the event “Water is Life”. This topic was not only pertinent to recent events concerning the Flint water crisis and the Dakota Access Pipeline, it aligned with the department’s new competency in environmental justice. The speaker was Terri Klemm, an associate professor of social work at Centenary University and proponent of civic engagement, advocacy, and peaceful civil disobedience.  Hunter believes Klemm related well to students. She says, through her presentation, they were able to “See their own ability to go beyond their comfort zone to advocate for others or for their environment.”

The presentation of the Greg Versen award was another noteworthy component of the night. The award was established in 2003 to honor Versen’s 25 year commitment to the department as field director. It is meant to honor an individual who exemplifies the characteristics of a social worker, but who is not a social worker by degree. Individuals can be nominated by anyone in the social work department, and the SWO executive board selects the recipient. Hunter says, “They choose someone who really dedicates themselves to work to build up the community in a way that is consistent with social work values and principles.” This year, Deanna Reed, Mayor of Harrisonburg, was bestowed the honor.

Junior social work student, Yenifer Valera-Sabino, nominated Reed. She says, “When I met Deanna I immediately saw her passion and commitment to her community, and I was inspired.  When I heard about the nomination she immediately came to mind.” Reed is Harrisonburg’s first African-American woman to serve on city council and as mayor, co-founder of a summer enrichment program called the Precious Gems Academy, director of On the Road Collaborative, a non-profit organization centered on youth empowerment, and adviser to the Iota Alpha Chapter of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority at JMU. Valera-Sabino, along with many other students in the department, has worked with Reed on the On the Road Collaborative. She says, “I couldn't think of a person more deserving.”

Kyra Miller, who presented the award to Reed, reiterates this sentiment. She states, “Her work with the On the Road Collaborative as well as her dedication to our community is truly inspiring and exemplifies the values and dedication I hope to apply in my future career as a social worker.” She reflects that, “It was inspiring to see how far our profession can reach. Mayor Reed works extremely hard to create equality within Harrisonburg and to ensure all citizens are recognized and their needs are met. It was an honor to recognize her hard work for our community.”

In addition to the presentation of the Greg Versen award, many other individuals were acknowledged during the celebration. Miller says, “It was wonderful to see the success of my fellow students as we recognized those who had received awards for their work or scholarships, and those who had been admitted to grad programs.” While the specific individuals who are recognized vary year to year, the event’s focus is always on celebrating the discipline as a whole. Hunter affirms the celebration is special because it brings together the entire department to celebrate and reflect on their common passion for social work.

View more photos from the event

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Published: Friday, April 28, 2017

Last Updated: Wednesday, December 9, 2020

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