From a national level to a community level, social workers are addressing the opioid crisis and other healthcare issues on a daily basis in organizations such
as the New Jersey Community Research Initiative (NJCRI) led by social worker and Chief Executive Officer, Brian McGovern, LSW. The NJCRI began as an HIV/
AIDS organizations and under Mr. McGovern’s leadership has grown into a full service organization offering behavioral health, transgender medical care,
pediatrics, primary care, substance abuse treatment, mental health services, a homeless drop in center, training programs and programs for LGBTQIA youth.
McGovern says his work at NJCRI has been the most rewarding experience of his social work career. “When we created this Community Center and Healthcare
Center… so many potential clients would keep away at first because of the stigma of HIV,” he shares. “Today they are attracted to our center for the many
services we provide, primarily because we strive to create a respectful and supportive environment no matter your race, gender identity, sexuality, age,
housing status, health, and more.”
School Social Worker, Lenora B. Keel, LCSW is the Coordinator of Student & Family Services for Princeton
Public Schools. Prior to this position she was the social worker with the Child Study Team at Princeton
High School, a role that has changed substantially over the years with the issue of gun violence and
school safety driving our national discourse. Despite the challenges, Keel says she loves her work as
a social worker. “Every day I have the ability and the opportunity to lift someone up, to empower, to
challenge, to guide, and to be a light for someone who is struggling to find their way out of the dark.
Every day, I have the opportunity to make a difference,” says Keel.
It is precisely these types of challenges that drive social
workers to become innovators in their field. One such
social worker is Dr. Randolph D. Sconiers, LCSW— “Dr.
S” to his clients—who specializes in mental health
treatment, interventions, and education with youth,
adolescents, and young adults utilizing Hip-Hop culture
as a bridge to learning and change. “I became a social
worker to serve others and create change. I wanted to help those that felt like they didn’t have a voice to be heard. I created Mental-Hop (mental health
education & Hip-Hop culture) to engage, educate, and empower our youth in an innovative way,” explains Sconiers. “To see young people discuss mental
health [issues] for the first time ever and understand the positive impact it can have on their lives has been incredible. Helping to break the cycle of
stigma and shame has been so rewarding!”
“The diversity of social work is what keeps my role interesting,” Thompson remarks. “When people think of becoming a social worker, rarely do they
imagine that role leading to a career as an international researcher or the Lt. Governor. But social work education sets the foundation for a career in so
many spaces, in roles that are affecting real change.”
Ultimately, that is what the story of social work is about— these seemingly unrelated areas are bound together by a profession of helpers— social workers
who are creating change, lifting and inspiring others, raising awareness, eliminating stigma, and ensuring all individuals, families, and communities have
the tools and resources, both internal and external, to not just live, but thrive.
To learn more about social work as a career or to connect with other social workers, please visit naswnj.org.
“I love hearing the stories of my colleagues--what led them to social work, their passion for what they do,” says Thompson. “Dr. Hubbard was drawn to
social work after the significant personal loss of her brother to community violence, and now she’s changing the world for adolescents here in New Jersey.
Mr. McGovern felt so passionately about the work his organization was doing that he went several years without taking a salary so the organization could
continue to meet its mission,” she continues. “Social workers are passionate about what they do,
personally invested in their work in profound ways, and always giving to the community in ways we may
not necessarily see.”
“School social workers are the unsung heroes of our community,” says Thompson. “I realized that the moment my Kindergartner came home from school to
talk about shelter in place” she continues. “It’s social workers like Ms. Keel who are not only helping our children make sense of what this means to them, but
supporting us parents as we struggle to understand a world which is so drastically different than the one we grew up in.”
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