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Thursday, June 1

From the Pen of the President: June 2017

Don Phelps, PhD, LCSW
NASW-Illinois Chapter President

It is with great sadness that I write my last column as board president of the NASW-Illinois Chapter. I finish my two-year term at the end of this month. As I look back on my years as board member and president, I can honestly say that the people I’ve served with are among the most passionate and committed social workers I have ever met. In my role as chapter president I’ve gotten to work with other state chapters across the country, and I am pleased to report that Illinois has the best professional staff in the association. I leave this role in the very capable hands of Mary Gollings who will take over as board president on July 1, 2017. I have served on the board with Mary for several years, and I look forward to working with her and watching the many ways she will use her experience, energy, and insight to strengthen and expand our association. I also want welcome our new board members and thank the board members that are finishing their terms.

These last two years have been a time of change and transition in the country. More than ever we need to work toward creating a “more perfect union” where all people have a voice, a seat at table, and the opportunity to pursue their dreams. In a sharply divided nation, social workers are bridge-builders that promote justice, equality, reconciliation, and inclusive communities. Promoting social and economic justice is one of our core values. Especially now, we don’t have the luxury of watching from the sidelines. Please join us in in the arena. Let’s create a strong game plan together. Bring your “A” game as we’re going to need all of your skills. I guarantee it will be difficult and uncomfortable at times, but together we will continue to speak truth to power and be a voice for those on the margins.

Eleanor Roosevelt said, “Where, after all, do universal human rights begin? In small places, close to home; so close and so small that they cannot be seen on any maps of the world. Unless these rights have meaning there, they have little meaning anywhere.” During the last class in my social policy courses I remind students that social change starts within each of us. We’ve all heard a paraphrase of the Gandhi quote, “Be the change you want to see in the world.” Changing the world starts with changing ourselves. If you want more hope in the world, you must become more hopeful. If you want more justice, you become more just. If you want more peace, you become more peaceful. If you want more compassion, you become more compassionate. So as a school social worker, if you see an unjust school policy or a student that isn’t getting the services s/he is entitled to, will you have the courage to correct it? As a mental health therapist, if you see inequality in a piece of legislation or massive cuts in treatment funding for those without resources, will you work hard to see it changed? If your uncle Frank makes a misinformed or hurtful joke about race or sexual orientation at a family gathering, will you be brave enough to confront it and use it as a teachable moment? Can we be the change we want to see in the world?

In social work we regularly see evidence of the worst of humanity (e.g., homelessness, child abuse, addiction, sexual assault, violence, poverty, and mental illness); but when you see the worst of humanity, you also simultaneously see the best of humanity in the colleagues and community members working to make the lives of others better. This last month I watched our university graduate hundreds of future social workers, and it made me hopeful. For most of these young adults, social work is vocation, a calling. They know it isn’t easy or glamourous but worth devoting their lives to. Patting Mother Teresa on the back, someone once said to her, “I wouldn’t do what you do for a million dollars.” She said with a grin, “Me neither.” Our young social workers are the new leaders, healers, visionaries, and teachers of our vocation. In their hearts, heads, and hands are the seeds of the next innovative treatment methodologies, the next insightful theories of behavior, the next New Deal or Great Society programs, the next organizers of important social justice movements, and the hope of thousands who have temporarily lost their way. We must resist the cynicism that comes from being in the field for so many years and share our hope, skills, and experiences with them. Please join me in mentoring the next generation of social workers.

I am grateful for the opportunity to serve as president of the NASW-Illinois Chapter. It has been one of the best experiences in my professional life. I‘ve had the pleasure of meeting so many members across the state and learning about the amazing things being done in our field. While I won’t continue in my current role, I will continue to be active in the association. This August I will be serving as one of the NASW-Illinois Chapter’s delegates at the NASW Delegate Assembly.

Finally, I want to thank you for your involvement in the NASW. My time on the board has taught me that the NASW-Illinois Chapter is involved in many activities “behind the scenes” to protect and promote our profession and the clients we serve. I knew NASW did many things but, like most members, I had no idea all of the ways they serve the profession. I want to encourage you to get more involved in the association. Take it to the next level. A mentor pushed me a little and recommended that I become a volunteer leader at the NASW-Illinois Chapter, and it was great advice. The friends and network I’ve developed are irreplaceable. I know you’re busy and so am I, but the strength of the association depends on the involvement and leadership of members. There are many ways to get more active: special interest groups (SIGs), a private practice list serve to share information, conference planning teams, district social and educational events, advocacy events, and opportunities to serve in chapter leadership positions.

I wish you all the best and hope to see you at our future events and conferences.


Don Phelps (PhD, University of Illinois at Chicago; LCSW) currently works as a tenured, full professor at Aurora University's School of Social Work. For the last thirty years he has worked in various roles in social services including adolescent and family therapist, clinical director, chief operating officer, chief executive officer, and professor. In 2007, Don and a few of his graduate students developed, funded, and implemented ongoing therapeutic groups for children at Hesed House, the second largest homeless shelter in Illinois. During a university sabbatical in 2011, he provided pro bono clinical services and clinical/administrative training at the Casa Hogar Los Angelitos orphanage in Manzanillo, Mexico. He currently serves as president of the board of directors for the Center for Faith and Human Rights, an international nonprofit based in Washington, DC.

Posted on 06/01/17 at 08:00 AM

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