By Sylvester “Jim” Bowie,
When the history of the year 2020 is written, it will go down as one of the most monumental and consequential year of the millennia. At the year started there were hardly any telltale signs that it would be epochal and change making as well as a groundbreaking year. In January, there were stories and worries about a Novel Coronavirus in China and there were about 7 coronavirus cases in US and 9,927 cases worldwide according to CNN news (https://www.cnn.com/interactive/2020/07/world/2020-year-in-review-july/ )
The year had barely started when news of the US military killing of an Iranian general was announced and that resulted in the ratcheting up of tension between the country and Iran.
The country also saw and experienced the US House of Representatives filing of impeachment Articles against President Donald John Trump for a Senate Trial that ended in a verdict of not guilty.
The year saw multiple candidates vying for the Democratic Party nomination for President. There were many first in the campaign. Pete Buttigieg was the first openly Gay man to Run for President. There was a large number of women running for president and the list included a record number of women of color including a Black and South Asian woman with immigrant parents from India and Jamaica. Kamala Harris is now the VP nominee for her party in this year’s presidential elections
The National Association of Social Workers (NASW) was forced to cancel it’s planned in person National conference and instead make it a virtual event. By the time of this April conference, Virtual and Zoom experiences had become commonplace catchphrases and were used as Nouns, Verbs and Adjectives. Virtual and Zoom are now used and experienced by large percentages of the population.
This year has also seen widespread rebellion against and demand for change; in policing, violence against black people and calls for social justice. It has been a year of racial reckoning as we are force to interrogate ideas, practices and policies that promote white supremacy and deny agency to people of color and especially to Black people. This reckoning is happening after too many instances of cameras capturing police misconduct including murder and shootings involving unarmed black men and the brutal killing of Brianna Taylor. Sometimes it has appeared to be too much. On top of all that it is only September and the death count from the Covid-19 virus has exceeded 200,000 in the US. The United States has about four percent (4%) of the world’s population but more than twenty-fine percent (25%) of the deaths
Fortunately, this year 2020 can also be seen as a year of renewal and revival. I am excited that the NASW California chapter has had stable and steady leadership during this period. While the pandemic has forced us to cancel, rearrange and reconfigure our plans, the staff ably led by the Executive Director (ED) continued to be innovative, create and be resourceful as they carried out the work of the organization.
As Janlee Wong, is preparing to exit the stage he officially retired in August, (he will depart on September 24) but stayed on to help with the transition of the new ED. I do want to use this opportunity to highlight some of his accomplishments over the years and then additionally, I want to welcome our new ED as we see this year 2020 to its end. As the current President of NASW California, I am excited to talk about the accomplishments of Janlee and to welcome our new ED, as I along with the board and staff look forward to forging a new relationship. We are appreciative of the fact that there is a learning curve and we do want to help make the transition one that is smooth and we will be endeavoring to make that a reality.
Janlee’s Stewardship over twenty-five years (1995-2020)
Working with an able staff and numerous Boards and regional leaders Janlee has had the opportunity to mold and make the California chapter Into the image that it has morphed in. 2020 has brought issues and challenges that will task Deborah, the Board, regional leaders and membership to dig deep. In some instances, the achievements of the past will be a cushion, but in most instances the responses will require new creativity, resolve, paradigm, understanding and sensitivities.
In sharing some of the accomplishments of the outgoing Executive Director (Janlee Wong) and his staff, boards and membership at large, it is hoped that our new Executive Director (Deborah Son) will have not just a blue print, but a springboard and motivation to take us forward for the next 25 years.
Janlee was the first Asian American Chapter Executive Director from the mainland and the only one from mainland for many years. Back at the start of his tenure in 1995, California with Janlee’s leadership became the first chapter in the country and world (and before the National Office) to establish a website (California is the home of the Silicon Valley after all)
Janlee brought the Chapter into the modern world of technology as the first Chapter to establish networked computers, integrated office suite software, true relational databases and cloud computing and storage
When the National organization decided that it needed a modernization focus and plan Janlee was tapped to serve on the National NASW Modernization planning committee and participated in its implementation in the Chapter and nationally
Working with a dedicated staff Janlee led his team to create NASW’s largest and most financially successful ONLINE CE program that now provides 35% of Chapter revenue.
With his staff ad team Janlee oversaw 25 state conferences and over 400 continuing education workshops
Made over 300 membership and ethics presentations to social work professionals, students and the general public.
Over the years, Janlee has supervised over 75 social work student interns from various schools in and outside California
The Chapter under Janlee’s leadership and with the able support of the legislative committee and staff has sponsored bill to ban conversion therapy for minors; member of coalition that successfully lobbied voters to pass the Mental Health Services Act which funds essential mental health services with a “millionaire’s tax” ; supported the state effort to expand Medicaid expansion before and after The Affordable Care Act
Janlee oversaw the Chapter’s effort to track 2,500 bills over 25 years. This has been done with only one staff lobbyist
Janlee and the staff working with the board and regional leaders and membership established the country’s largest and most successful Legislative Lobby Days program with over 15,000 students attending over 25 years and prior to COVID 1,400 attending in 2019.
Under Janlee’s leadership and guidance, led NASW in developing the Centennial of Social Work (1998) celebration and created a traveling centennial social work exhibit that was sent around the state and country and shown at the California State Capitol. Many schools still have or display some of the posters.
The Chapter under Janlee’s leadership and with the strong support of the staff, board regions and members at large participated in the planning and implementation of a complete redesign of NASW Professional Review Program streamlining the process and setting uniform standards across the country
The Chapter answered over 3,000 phone, email inquiries on ethical and practice questions from practitioners and the public and according to the National office, the Chapter’s ethics work has significantly reduced the number of ethics complaints to near zero
Janlee, with the board, staff and members helped establish the Chapter PAC (CalPACE) as the largest NASW chapter PAC in the country in terms of donations and funds raised.
Janlee, up to the current time has strongly advocated for nationally funded chapter/region political field organizer deployment including the 2020 election and in 5 key swing states.
With the guidance of Janlee Wong, the Board under the Presidency of Shirley Gentilini, (I served as 1st Vice President at the time) and Regional Unit members the chapter established the first and only Chapter Native American Birdwoman Social Work Student scholarship and has made over 20 awards totaling $20,000
The Chapter under Janlee’s leadership, has also supported the United Farm Workers ($20,000 donation to the Salinas Center), made donations to various Black Social Worker Association events across the state and established the Asian Pacific Islander Social Work Council
Janlee, has competently represented the organization and Chapter in a number of sister organizations events and has served the profession well. These entities include the Board of Behavioral Science (BBS) where he attended Board and Committee meetings. He was part of coalition to save the BBS from restructuring and consolidation, protected the profession from encroachment from other professions and blocked the slow trend towards merger of all licenses. Janlee also Supported California’s return to the national advanced clinical LCSW exam. He also served on the Board of the California Social Work Education Consortium (CalSWEC). There he represented NASW through the expansion of CalSWEC from 12 schools of social work to 24.
Janlee has also served with the California Association of Deans and Directors (CADD) of Schools of Social Work: Served as ex-officio non-voting Board member. He also served on social work community advisory boards for Azusa Pacific University, San Francisco State University and UC Berkeley.
With the board and finance committee, Janlee has helped grow the Chapter budget from $800,000 in 1995 to almost $1.6 million. Established the largest chapter reserve fund in the country at $2.8 million and paid off the Chapter owned building.
So, it is fair to say that in 25 years Janlee Wong has done much and accomplished a great deal and has placed the chapter in a position to move forward and upward for the next 25 years.
One only has to look on the issues that have risen to the top of the agenda in the year 2020 to appreciate that the challenges facing members, Board and the new Executive Director (ED) Deborah Son, will be inheriting a very different organization than the one Janlee joined twenty five-years ago and will demand solutions and leadership unlike (in many ways) confronted by the chapter in the previous 25 years.
Yes, some of the old challenges will still be on the agenda: Membership, Recruiting Quality Volunteer Leadership, Providing Services and Support for membership among other issues, but the bigger challenges though not new, will be issues of social justice, equity and fairness.
Deborah Son, our new ED has declared her readiness for the Job and the challenges it brings. She makes it clear that she does not believe it is her job to dictate the Chapter’s vision, but to lead its design and implementation with the members. So, she is in essence ready to start working with stakeholders internal (Staff, Board, Regional Directors and Leaders as well as members) and external (community groups, organizations and social workers who are not members, but who she believes should be).
Deborah describes herself as “a social worker who is committed to leading with frameworks of equity to ensure the voices of those most impacted are at the decision-making table.” Deborah plans to be asking “social workers across the state to engage in dialogue with her in the months to come to convene and collaborate toward a collective vision for the Chapter.” She believes that will the foundation for her moving policy, grassroots, and social change agendas that advance social work values and embed their regular practice in services and supports for communities across the state of California.
In previous work, Deborah helped lead the domestic violence homicide initiative for Contra Costa County in the San Francisco Bay area, spearheaded the growth and integration of medical-legal partnerships throughout the Alameda County public health care system, and has facilitated leadership development with the groups she has been engaged with.
As the Chapter moves forward in these extraordinary times, we are grateful for the accomplishments of the last 25 years under the leadership of Janlee Wong, the staff and the numerous volunteers who made it possible. We also look forward with anticipation, gratitude and humility, and with open arms we welcome Deborah. We do this with the commitment to work with her to accomplish the chapter’s goals, upholding our values and growing the membership, finances, visibility and values in our community, local chapter and national organization.
Thanks, Janlee! Welcome Deborah!