By S. Jolene Hui, LCSW, NASW-CA Director of Membership
Social workers’ unique education and perspective makes them arguably more qualified than any other profession to serve politically in their communities. Jennifer Vallejo, a licensed clinical social worker from Long Beach, decided she wanted to use what she’s learned as a social worker to represent her community.
Jennifer Vallejo with Sunny, one of her dogs.
After an unsuccessful bid in 2014, in June of this year Vallejo was elected as a member of the Democratic Party Central Committee representing Assembly District 70 (San Pedro, Long Beach and Signal Hill). She attends monthly meetings and, along with the rest of delegation, advocates for the residents in her district.
Not only did she win, she received the second-most votes of the more than 10,300 cast — an impressive feat for someone without a political background.
“It was definitely a group effort. I obtained signatures from registered Democrats and started spreading the word months prior to getting on the ballot,” says Vallejo. “I’m grateful that my friends, neighbors, coffee shop baristas and basically everyone I knew in Long Beach agreed to support me and let their friends know about me running.”
Vallejo became interested in running for office when she attended President Obama’s inauguration with her brother in January 2013.
“That single event was inspirational. I met so many people involved in local politics from different states. I experienced an incredible sense of community and wanted to be part of the change. After that day I decided that I wanted to represent the groups I work with. I wanted to bring a social worker’s perspective to the table.”
During the day, Vallejo is a psychiatric social worker for the Los Angeles Department of Mental Health with the Psychiatric Mobile Response Team (PMRT). Since she works with people who are in crisis, she sees a lot of the factors that impact people’s lives. She is part of an interdisciplinary team that responds to homes, emergency rooms, schools and nursing homes. The team assists people in obtaining the appropriate help if they are a danger to themselves, others, or gravely disabled due to mental disorders. This work in crisis led her to want to advocate on behalf of these clients.
Vallejo was the only social worker running for this position in her district.
“There is definitely a need for us to get involved,” she says. “We need to start attending more city council meetings, beach clean-ups, volunteer days and community meetings. These are simple ways of getting to know who represents the community and gives us an opportunity to voice our concerns.”
Vallejo obtained her undergraduate degree at UCLA and then graduated from its MSW program in 2012. She considers the school “one of the loves of [her] life” and that grad school internships opened her eyes to “intense crisis work.”
In the future she would love to continue crisis work and eventually transition to military social work. She also plans on serving her community as a local activist and as a member of the Democratic Party in Los Angeles County. “And who knows — maybe City Council at some point,” she said.
Jolene Hui, LCSW, is NASW-CA’s Director of Membership and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.