By Janlee Wong,
NASW-CA Executive Director
The NASW California Chapter Board of Directors held a recent “check in” meeting via Zoom and it’s amazing what professional social workers are doing during the COVID 19 emergency. The Board reflects the breadth and diversity of professional social work and here are some highlights from what Board members are doing.
Several work in hospitals and are in the “front line” of fighting the COVID 19 pandemic. They are called “essential” but sometimes don’t get the recognition they deserve. It could range from no personal protective equipment (PPE) such as masks being provided to in attention to the mental health needs of stressed out and anxious workers. NASW has been working to help social workers in the “front lines” get the recognition and protection that they need and deserve through advocacy and media communications.
Some work in homeless services ranging from direct services to policy and advocacy. This is also the “front lines,” with similar issues of recognition and protection. The state and localities’ massive effort to house the most vulnerable is unprecedented and social workers are in the thick of it.
The corrections population is another high-risk area with crowding, the lack of PPE, and safety protocols. One of our courageous Board members called out these risky and dangerous conditions and practices in a letter to the Governor and asked NASW to help. Calling on experts on our state and National boards as well as our network of advocates, we got the attention of Dr. Mark Ghaly, the California Secretary of Health and Human Services.
Several of our Board members work for private non-profits with some seeing a few clients and converting to telehealth. This sector is the backbone of social services and the workers need to be supported.
Other Board members work in education or are students. This sector has changed drastically with not only schools converting to remote education and campuses closing, but also with the cancellation of the most important commencement ceremonies. The loss of these important life events cannot be underestimated and the emotional toll high.
Several of our social workers work at their regular day jobs but also volunteer in the community with food distribution and other essential community supports. Count on social workers to step forward when they’re needed.
All of us also have our personal lives to contend with as everyone does. Separation from families, children at home coupled with “stay at home” orders produces anxiety, stress and fear. The sharing of what individuals do for “self-care” was excellent and encouraged creativity and imagination. We had a special treat when we learned one of our Board members’ father is a shaman in Nepal and he shared some relaxation, mindfulness and meditative ways to empty the mind and focus on breathing.
Some staff attended and shared their work and what they were doing to de-stress. I want to recognize Rebecca Gonzales for taking the lead on alerting government leaders to the unsafe practices in the jails. Jolene Hui and Paul Vallejo are keeping us up to date and informed on what social work is doing during these extraordinary times. Lora Pierce and Louis Libert deserve special recognition for putting together free social work COVID 19 online courses and coordinating a special hospital survey on the high demand for social workers and a special hospital jobs outreach to members and webpage. And thanks to Cheryl Raynak and Taytana Timonichev for all the behind the scenes work involving cancellation of our in- person events and the financial impact of renegotiating contracts and issuing refunds.
Throughout our virtual meeting, Chapter President Sylvester Bowie, First Vice President Joe Nunn, and others displayed the leadership we are so lucky and so proud to have. Both listened very carefully to our Board members and offered moral support and practical ideas. President Bowie emphasized that NASW is “family” to professional social workers and there to help in challenging and difficult times.