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New UCLA Center Aims to Build Paths to Success for Foster Youths, Families Pritzker Center for Strengthening Children and Families leverages campus expertise to create paths to educational success

By John McDonald, UCLA Graduate School of Education and Information Studies

Tony and Jeanne Pritzker

A new center at UCLA will address the needs of children who are disconnected from traditional paths to success, with a particular focus on youth in foster care. The UCLA Pritzker Center for Strengthening Children and Families is a collaborative hub for research, prevention and intervention efforts that will work to strengthen families, and help children avoid entering the child welfare system.

The center’s staff and faculty will also aim to give foster parents, related caregivers, and adoptive families the skills and resources to promote stable and nurturing families, equitable opportunities and paths to educational success for the children in their care. It will address the complex needs of youth in foster care by bringing together resources and expertise from numerous UCLA units, including the Graduate School of Education and Information Studies’ education department, the Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior and Social Welfare at the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs.

The center was made possible by a gift of $10 million from the Anthony and Jeanne Pritzker Family Foundation. Tony and Jeanne Pritzker are Los Angeles philanthropists and leading supporters of UCLA who have made significant investments toward bettering the lives of foster youth and their families.

“This generous gift from Jeanne and Tony Pritzker allows UCLA to help provide critical resources for our community’s most vulnerable children and youth,” said UCLA Chancellor Gene Block. “As a leading public research university, we have a responsibility to use the breadth and depth of our resources to help address the most critical issues facing society. The UCLA Pritzker Center for Strengthening Children and Families will be a tremendous resource for young people in the foster care system and their families.”

The center will serve as a catalyst for more effective collaboration between UCLA researchers and nonprofit agencies, other colleges and universities, K-12 systems, children and family advocates, and government support services across Los Angeles County. It will also develop innovative classroom support systems, family support services, and programs that help children affected by trauma and promote resilience; and it will produce new research on issues related to foster care, with an initial focus on the dynamics of race in foster care in Los Angeles County.

“This new center is a natural outgrowth of our family’s commitment to increasing UCLA’s capacity to improve outcomes for children,” said Tony Pritzker. “Our intent is that the Pritzker Center will lend synergy to so much good work already being undertaken throughout the institution, and galvanize new research and opportunities for academic advancement across departments.”

Todd Franke

The center is directed by Tyrone Howard, a UCLA professor of education and GSEIS’s associate dean of equity and inclusion. Howard also is the director of the Black Male Institute at UCLA. The center’s co-director is Audra Langley, an associate professor of child and adolescent psychiatry at the Semel Institute, and the director of UCLA TIES for Families, which serves children in foster care or adopted families.  Patricia Lester, the Jane and Marc Nathanson Family Professor of Psychiatry, and Todd Franke, a professor of social welfare at UCLA Luskin, also serve on the center’s leadership team.

“There are nearly 35,000 young people engaged in the child welfare services system in Los Angeles County, including more than 21,000 in foster care, many of whom are struggling,” Howard said. “Issues of race, poverty and gender all play a role in how children and families seek to navigate complex systems for help and hope. The Pritzker Center will help us to better understand their needs and enhance and intensify our efforts to ensure their educational and social success and economic security.

“We are going to work with others in our community to ensure they get the support and services they need, and maybe more importantly, to strengthen children and families in ways that prevent children from entering the foster care system in the first place.”

Langley said: “We have long been doing important work at UCLA to help optimize the development of children in foster care, but there is more to be done to synergize our efforts. This new center will leverage our campuswide experience and strengthen partnerships with others across Los Angeles County who are working to better serve our children and young people in foster care and prioritize brighter futures for all children and families.”

The gift also establishes the Pritzker Family Endowed Chair in Education for Strengthening Children and Families at the Graduate School of Education; the position will provide faculty leadership for the center.

“With the generous endowment created by the Pritzker family, the Pritzker Center promises to be a lasting resource,” said Marcelo Suárez-Orozco, the UCLA Wasserman Dean of the Graduate School of Education. “The center’s leaders will work collaboratively with those in the nonprofit world and government sectors to develop and identify new rigorous, research-based approaches to better support the needs of foster youth and families.

“Many young people in foster care spend much of their day in public school settings, and we need to explore how educators, social workers, clinicians and public health leaders can work together to empower these young people to live full, successful lives.”

A Life of Social Work Dedicated to Children and Families Friends and former colleagues gather in tribute to former educator Joycelyn ‘Joy’ Crumpton, ‘an inspiration to everyone around her’

By Stan Paul

Joycelyn Anita McKay Crumpton — “Joy” to all who knew her — spent more than three decades dedicated to a career in social work and helping others.

The former Social Welfare field faculty member at the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs, who passed away in September 2017, was known for working to create positive change through education, leadership and service where she worked and taught, as well as in the communities where she lived.

Family, friends, faculty, colleagues and former students got together on March 8 at UCLA’s Faculty Center to honor Crumpton’s contributions to the field of child welfare, diversity, and spirituality in social work practice, to celebrate her life and share memories. In addition, a memorial fellowship fund in her name has been established so MSW student recipients may carry Joy’s legacy as leaders and change agents.

View photos from the memorial gathering on Flickr:

Joy Crumpton Memorial

“Joy was loved and respected by students, faculty and community members,” said Gerry Laviña MSW ’88, director of field education in Social Welfare at UCLA Luskin. “She could always be counted on for support, wisdom, and a smile or hug,” he added. As news of Crumpton’s passing spread into the community and among alumni, Laviña, also a UCLA Luskin MSW alumnus, noted that Crumpton’s “positive spirit and words are carried forward through the many MSWs she taught.”

Contribute to the Joy Crumpton Memorial Fellowship Fund.

At UCLA Luskin, Crumpton MSW ’80 also served as project coordinator of the Title IV-E California Social Work Education Center (CalSWEC) stipend program for MSW students, a post she held from 2004 until her retirement in 2012. Previously, she served as associate director of the UCLA Center on Child Welfare, Inter-university Consortium from 1992 to 1996. In addition, she spent many years in curriculum development and training implementation focused on child abuse and neglect. At the core of her work was the determination to impact those in need — children, adults and families, according to friends, family and colleagues.

“Joy was an inspiration to everyone around her,” said Wanda Ballenger MSW ’73, longtime friend and colleague, who met Crumpton in the 1980s. In 1992, Ballenger hired Crumpton as associate director of the Center on Child Welfare. “Joy was a very social person, who was better at being ‘on,’ ” when it came to meetings and presentations, added Ballenger. In fact, Crumpton was a talented and inspirational speaker. Her audiences included children and youth, parents, graduate students, social workers, probation officers, public health nurses, judges, court officers, community advocates, clergy members, and university faculty and staff, as recounted in a memorial posted online.

In additions to positions at UCLA, Crumpton held a number of training and instructional positions, including lead trainer for the Bay Area Academy and child welfare ombudsman for the Health and Human Services Agency of the city and county of San Francisco. She also founded and directed Family Tree, which provided training and consultation services related to child welfare.

Ballenger said the two stayed in touch despite being far apart. Ballenger recalled that when her husband received a diagnosis of a serious medical condition, even though Joy was fighting her own battle with cancer, she would call every week. “She was just that kind of person,” Ballenger said. “I really miss her. Joy was my sister.”

Throughout Crumpton’s career, she taught and provided fieldwork instruction at a number of institutions, including UC Berkeley’s School of Social Welfare, San Francisco State University, and USC’s Center on Child Welfare. At UCLA Luskin, Crumpton taught graduate courses in cross-cultural awareness, international social work, advanced child welfare practice and the program’s child welfare seminar. She also collaborated with the University of Ghana to develop a cultural immersion and fieldwork internship for MSW students working in key social service agencies in Accra, Ghana, West Africa.

Jorja Leap MSW ’80, adjunct professor of social welfare, remembered her longtime friend and colleague from their early days as MSW students in the same class at UCLA.

“Joy was one of those who knew early on how to collaborate — how to work with difficult people in all groups — she was a mediator so much of the time,” said Leap, recalling an earlier and far different time in social work. “So much of it involving marginalized populations,” Leap said. “Joy knew early on to work within institutions and organizations to make change.”

Joseph A. Nunn MSW ’70 PhD ’90, former director of field education for Social Welfare at UCLA Luskin, also had the privilege of working with Crumpton.

“Whenever Joy Crumpton walked into a room, she would light it up,” Nunn said. “Her first name said it all. With an infectious sense of humor and a winning smile she did indeed live up to her name by bringing joy.”

In addition to discussing their children and families, Nunn and Crumpton talked about time each spent coincidentally as children in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. (Crumpton was born in New Orleans.) “Through one of those it’s-a-small-world experiences, we discovered that she grew up four doors away from my cousins who I visited many summers from my home in Los Angeles.”

Citing her background in direct practice, classroom teaching and training, Nunn said in an email: “Joy had a strong commitment to the children served by the public child welfare system. Whether discussing policy issues or practice interventions her strong analytical skills and compassion for this population were evident. ”

He added: “Joy’s engaging personality made it possible for her to quickly connect with others and thus building collaborative relationships was one of her talents. In summary, Joy had class and style like few before her.”

Social Welfare Revises Academic Program Updated MSW curriculum includes three new concentrations and a leadership component designed to launch students on lifelong, impactful careers helping people who are the most vulnerable

By Stan Paul

A newly revised Master of Social Welfare curriculum at the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs comes with an expectation: “We expect you to use your career to make a huge difference,” said Fernando Torres-Gil, professor of social welfare and lead instructor of a new leadership component.

Social welfare has a long tradition at UCLA going back to the 1940s and a highly regarded national reputation of training multiple generations of social workers, and the purposeful changes have been made with a fresh focus and expanded goals for the two-year graduate professional program.

“It’s a new program in the sense that we have a new curriculum and new areas of concentration,” said Laura Abrams, professor and chair of social welfare at UCLA Luskin, explaining that the changes are designed to greater utilize the strengths and expertise of faculty and provide specialized and enhanced in-depth training to students.

Each new concentration allows students to delve deeply into an area of focus and, at the same time, to prepare graduates for leadership positions locally, nationally and globally throughout the course of their careers. They are:

  • Health and Mental Health Across the Life Span
  • Social and Economic Justice
  • Child and Family Well-Being

“I think we have to prepare social workers to be the best possible thinkers, leaders, educators, activists they can be.”

— Laura Abrams, professor and chair of social welfare

 
 


Some things will remain the same because the need for social workers is as relevant as ever, if not more, according to Abrams. “We are obviously incorporating some of the same principles,” she said of the program and its “overarching mission” to train the next generation of social work practitioners and leaders in the field, champion the development of knowledge for the social work profession, and strengthen social institutions and services in Los Angeles and beyond. “Everything has to be grounded in, ‘How do we engage clients and communities? How do we help solve some of these social issues like homelessness, kids who have social and emotional issues in schools.’ It’s not that we are focusing on a different set of issues, we are just refreshing our curriculum and making it more up-to-date.”

In addition to the course on leadership that the entire cohort of first-year students will be taking this Winter Quarter, Abrams said all first-year courses have been revised and updated.

“These are all new and they have been rolling out this year,” she said, adding that the divisions between “micro” and “macro” practice — or the distinction between clinical, or direct, practice and community practice — have made way for a more generalist practice approach.

“We realized that most social workers do a little bit of everything,” said Abrams, explaining the reasoning behind the shift to the new concentrations, which come with new faculty searches and hires to augment them. “Within each of those areas students should be expected to get a grounding in policy as well as practice.”

In addition, students will receive more training in research and statistics. So, like their peers in UCLA Luskin’s other graduate programs in public policy and urban planning, they will be working on yearlong capstone projects that mix qualitative and quantitative work, as well as opportunities to take on group projects.

The programs will still be flexible enough to allow students to take electives from the School’s other programs.

“We’ve always kept in mind that we are embedded in a school of public affairs with top-notch public policy and urban planning programs where we have the opportunity to be interdisciplinary, and we need to be,” Torres-Gil said. “It’s all part of the overall Luskin School mission that we’re making a difference, our graduates are special, they’re unique, they’re going places and the Luskin School is UCLA’s tool to train those that are going to be involved in those real-world problems and issues and make a big difference.”

The leadership aspect of the training seeks to guide students in “their ability to impact social change, to be sophisticated policy advocates and to plan for a career where they will exercise leadership at all levels, whether they are starting off as a clinician or as a lower-level eligibility worker in a large bureaucracy,” Torres-Gil said. “Over time we expect them to move up the ranks, whether it’s a CBO (community-based organization), nonprofit, public bureaucracy or practice,” he added.

Torres-Gil said that this approach is important for a number of reasons, including exerting power and being influential in areas traditionally dominated by arenas such as business, journalism, economics, communication and political science.

“Social workers are grounded in understanding, intuitively and right there at the front lines, how issues affect people, and so we want to be more upstream and train social workers to understand what it takes to be an effective social change agent and leader,” even though terms like “influence” and “power” may “go against the grain of the social work profession that wants to focus on social justice and social equity,” he said.

Other reasons include managing and assuming leadership roles in a career that may last decades and involve a number of different jobs or positions. With the idea of longevity in mind, Torres-Gil, who also serves as the director of the Center for Policy Research on Aging at UCLA Luskin, said it is impossible to pack everything into a single program, but “here are the attributes, those competencies, capabilities that I need to build a greater ability to be effective and to make social change.”

Torres-Gil continued, “So we want to make sure the MSW part of the Luskin School has that same mindset; we’re not just any graduate school, we’re UCLA, we’re Luskin and over time people are going to say, ‘If you want to make a difference, if you want to be a power player, if you want to be an elite leader who is seen as a go-to person or whatever the issue is, get a UCLA MSW.’ That’s the aspiration.”

Abrams noted that the curriculum revamp started “long before the last presidential election, but I think there’s a lot more challenges that are going to be happening, especially in vulnerable communities.”

In sum, “I think we have to prepare social workers to be the best possible thinkers, leaders, educators, activists they can be,” Abrams said. “So they have to be armed with the tools of theory, they have to have tools of research, they have to have tools of practice.”

Details about the new Plan of Study are available on the UCLA Luskin website.

Chinese Delegation Learns About Social Work in K-12

Social Welfare Field Education faculty members Gerry Laviña MSW ’88 and Hector Palencia MSW ’08 hosted a group of social workers and school administrators from China on Oct. 23, 2017. The delegates were interested in the implementation of social work practices in primary and secondary schools in California and the United States. Laviña, UCLA Luskin’s director of field education, shared insights from his role as a field liaison for social welfare issues within area school systems, including the Los Angeles Unified School District. Palencia talked about his extensive practice experience as a school social worker. 

Gerry Laviña MSW ’88 and Hector Palencia MSW ’08 of the UCLA Luskin Social Welfare faculty hold mementos presented to them by the visiting delegates from China.

Partnership of Social Workers and Medical Students Enters 2nd Year

Thanks to a partnership between UCLA Luskin Social Welfare and the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA, medical students at UCLA are again learning from social workers about the issues they face in medical workplaces. The project, now entering its second year, was initially put together by former Social Welfare chair Todd FrankeGerry Laviña MSW ’88, director of field education; and Michelle Talley MSW ’98, a member of UCLA Luskin’s field education faculty and a licensed clinical social worker (LCSW). Read more about the effort.

Getting an Early Start on Social Welfare Lessons Master of Social Welfare graduates share advice with incoming UCLA Luskin students who will be serving vulnerable clients and populations

By Stan Paul

Even before the fall quarter had begun, the new class of first-year UCLA Luskin Social Welfare master’s students was already learning the lessons that will become the foundation of future careers in social work.

“Ten years ago I was sitting exactly where you are,” said Tara Chandler MSW ’09, now a social worker in mental health care, as she and a panel of recent Luskin grads shared practical advice about their roles as mandated reporters for the children, families, senior citizens, dependent adults and others they serve as professional social work practitioners.

The seminar for the incoming cohort of Social Welfare students was one of two half-day sessions designed to help students understand the role of social work and their mandated obligations when working with clients and families, said Michelle Talley, a field education faculty member at the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs who works with first- and second-year students.

Joining Chandler were Luskin Social Welfare alumnae Bridgette Amador ’11, Aiyanna Rios ’08, Malena French ’11 and Jolene Hui ’11, all of whom have moved up to positions as administrators and supervisors “in record time,” Talley said. In addition, Hui, who spoke on ethics and confidentiality issues, is director of membership for the California chapter of the National Association of Social Workers, which governs the School’s MSW program, Talley said.

Session topics included mandated reporting of child abuse and elder abuse, domestic violence, suicide, and related legal responsibilities. The idea is to support students who had already begun internships a month before school begins, Talley said. “This is to help students, as they may encounter issues directly or indirectly at their placement,” she said, explaining that students participate in several modules to help them understand complex social justice issues.

The new cohort brings a broad range of experiences to the programs. On average, most of the students have one to three years of experience — either as volunteers or working in a service capacity, Talley said. This includes participation in research studies on adolescent and social anxiety, working with children and older adults, as well as working with a mental health agency providing case management services. Some of the students come from careers in teaching or law, or even as a behavior specialist, working with children with special needs and their families.

For UCLA Luskin student Tina Nguyen, who will be interning in a mental health setting in Los Angeles, the sessions served as a helpful refresher.

“For people who have worked with children or in mental health, you see that daily, so what they are talking about is very effective,” said the Orange County resident who has worked with children and adults in a nonprofit organization.

First-year student Brian Stefan said he was encouraged by the alumni presentations and plans to use his MSW to continue working in suicide prevention, outreach and education in the Los Angeles area. The L.A. native has had previous experience as a volunteer and a staff shift supervisor for a suicide prevention center. Stefan has also done volunteer work as a co-leader for a grief support agency and for the L.A. Mayor’s Office Crisis Response Team.

“The speakers sharing their passion and commitment to the social welfare field is inspiring,” Stefan said. “It’s amazing how much can be done with a Master of Social Welfare [degree] at UCLA.”

 

Social Workers and Medical Students: ‘The Ideal Team’ UCLA Luskin’s Department of Social Welfare provides lessons in social work to first-year students from the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA

By George Foulsham

Matthew Hing is a first-year medical student at UCLA, but on this April morning he’s a visitor in a nondescript building on Lincoln Boulevard in Venice — the St. Joseph Center, home of the Chronically Homeless Intervention Program.

Hing enters through a back door, weaving through a crowd of homeless people who gather each morning to take advantage of St. Joseph’s services. This isn’t your typical med school classroom, but Hing believes the experience will be a vital part of his training — adding more educational insight to his medical school curriculum.

Thanks to a partnership between the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs’ Department of Social Welfare and the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA, Hing and 19 other medical students are receiving a lesson in social work.

A month earlier, the students gathered in a classroom in the Public Affairs building for an orientation session arranged by Todd Franke, the chair of the Department of Social Welfare; Gerry Laviña MSW ’88, director of field education at UCLA Luskin; and Michelle Talley MSW ’98, a member of UCLA Luskin’s field education faculty and a licensed clinical social worker (LCSW).

“I think this is a fantastic opportunity,” Franke said as he greeted the students. “We hope this is a marvelous success.”

Laviña talked about how much he learned from similar experiences earlier in his career. “I learned so much from the doctors and nurses and social workers,” he said. “Literally, I would not be here today if I hadn’t had that experience.”

Talley told the students about having worked in child welfare, and how she spent time working with public health nurses on adoption cases. “It was very helpful and useful in my role as a social worker, understanding some of the medical issues that a child could be faced with,” she said.

Hing’s day at the homeless center was the “shadowing” piece of the social work lesson. He spent a day observing and debriefing social workers and a psychiatrist, all of whom specialize in tending to the needs of the homeless.

“The psychiatrist, he saw three clients — all very different cases,” Hing said. “One was an intake case, the second time he had seen the client, so he was really getting a sense of what was going on — what had led to this individual becoming homeless, and how they were doing now.

“The second was much more stable — he’s been seen for several months — but there were new stresses in his life,” Hing said. “It was just a lot of things that a psychiatrist knew to ask that I never knew about.”

The third case involved a patient who was struggling with the anti-psychotic medication that she was taking, and how it was making her fall asleep. “So she was worried about her safety on the street,” he said. “This was something for me in a patient interaction that I would never think about, but you can learn from a social worker. Seeing those unique insights at work in this population — that’s what I got from shadowing.”

Hing shadowed those working with the homeless, and his fellow students had a variety of other experiences. One participated in a forensic interview on a child-abuse case — “an intense experience,” Hing said he heard later.

Hing’s trip to St. Joseph Center was arranged by Laviña, and the two have been the driving forces behind making the partnership a reality. After attending a conference about social medicine in October, Hing emailed a proposal for the program to members of the curriculum committee at the Geffen School. He and his colleagues, fellow medical students Amrita Ayer, Brian Dang, Lyolya Hovhannisyan and Samantha Mohammad, produced a potential syllabus, which led to a formal presentation to UCLA Luskin.

After emailing Laviña and Franke, Hing received an overwhelmingly positive response.

“Todd thought it was an excellent idea,” Hing said. “He wondered why it hadn’t already happened, and was excited about the possibilities.”

The concept resonated with Laviña, who sees it as a logical extension of what social welfare experts provide to Luskin’s master’s students.

“Social workers have always worked in multidisciplinary settings, so we strive for collaboration with physicians and all other disciplines,” Laviña said. “We were happy to work with Matt and his peers, along with our faculty and panelists, to bring very direct feedback as to how they can become doctors who work with their patients and families using cultural humility and truly seeking a holistic approach.”

The orientation session was the first part of the program. In addition to the introductions by Laviña, Franke and Talley, the session included a panel of seven social welfare experts: Rosella Youse, a manager with the Los Angeles County Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS); Kim Tran MSW ’11, a forensic interviewer with DCFS who is stationed at Harbor UCLA Medical Center; Deborah Tuckman MSW ’99, a social worker in the emergency department at Cedars-Sinai; Thomas Pier, LCSW at Simms/Mann UCLA Center for Integrative Oncology; Brian C. Wren, LCSW at Providence Health & Services; James Coomes MSW ’96, LCSW at the county department of mental health; and Kim Griffin-Esperon MSW ’98, LCSW with the Los Angeles Unified School District.

The experts shared stories about dealing with child abuse, testifying in court for child welfare and neglect cases, helping assist children with spina bifida and cancer, providing guidance on home health care and about coping with many other social issues doctors might encounter during their careers.

“You won’t know child welfare social work like we do,” Youse told the medical students. “But I don’t know the medical field like you do. So together we are really the ideal team.”

The program is also supported by those who work with the students in the Geffen School.

“Caring for patients takes a diverse team of experts,” said Sheila Naghshineh, chair of the doctoring program for first-year medical students. “Having a social worker on the team is often vital to providing high-quality, customized care for patients in both the outpatient and inpatient setting.”

It is important for health care providers to understand the role of social workers so that they can learn to work together as a team, Naghshineh said. “The social worker shadowing pilot program helps medical students experience first-hand how to effectively work with social workers, and understand how and when to utilize their services, resources and expertise to benefit patients,” she said.

Asked if he thinks social work should be a part of the medical students’ curriculum, Hing’s response was definitive: “Yes, yes, yes.”

“Ideally, this should be part of our curriculum,” said Hing, who was raised in a medical family — his mother is a social worker and his father is a physician. “I think it is important for us to witness the empathy that social workers bring forth for their patients, who are often from the most vulnerable, marginalized parts of our society. I’d love to make sure that all of my classmates have this opportunity to see the incredible work that is going on around this.”

Laviña said he was inspired to witness and experience the students’ openness to the feedback. “I am heartened to think about the type of doctors they will become — and how they will better serve our communities,” he said.

‘Unsung Hero,’ Leader in South L.A. Named 2017 Social Welfare Alumna of the Year Aurea Montes-Rodriguez MSW ’99 was inspired to develop a healthier generation by award namesake Joseph Nunn

By Stan Paul

Aurea Montes-Rodriguez, this year’s Social Welfare Alumna of the Year, has a lifelong personal and professional connection to South Los Angeles.

The 1999 Master of Social Welfare graduate of the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs came to California from Mexico at the age of 3, grew up in South Los Angeles, witnessed firsthand the 1992 riots, and has gone on to be a leader and change agent in the community.

In recognition of her work and commitment to the community, Montes-Rodriguez was presented the Joseph A. Nunn Alumna of the Year Award on May 20, 2017. The award is bestowed annually in honor of Joseph A. Nunn, UCLA alumnus, former vice chair and longtime director of field education for the UCLA Department of Social Welfare.

“I am surprised and very humbled to be nominated and selected, especially for an award named after Dr. Nunn,” said Montes-Rodriguez. “When I was a student I looked up to him and admired the work he had done around juvenile criminal justice — thinking about ways we could do a better job eliminating the cradle-to-prison pipeline so we can develop a healthier generation.”

Montes-Rodriguez, who now serves as executive vice president of organizational growth at Community Coalition, a social justice nonprofit based in South Los Angeles, was honored at a social welfare alumni gathering in Los Angeles.

Toby Hur MSW ’93, a longtime member of the social welfare field faculty, nominated Montes-Rodriguez and shares some history with her.

“My history with Community Coalition goes back to 1992,” Hur said. “In the aftermath of the rioting that rocked a city marred by racial division and economic disparity, a small group of community leaders emerged, such as Karen Bass, a current congresswoman, of Community Coalition, and B.H. Kim of Koreatown Youth and Community Center and a Luskin Senior Fellow, in order to bring forth a constructive agenda for healing and rebuilding of L.A.”

Hur said that, as a graduate student during that time, he became very involved in those efforts. The experience has deeply impacted his professional career and teaching in the ensuing years.

“Community Coalition has stayed true to its roots and continues to develop community capacities and future leaders,” Hur said, adding that Luskin students continue to be trained at Community Coalition in grassroots organizing, advocacy and political action. “Aurea is one of the unsung heroes, the all-important and crucial glue, holding the organization and its causes together. I think she is well overdue for recognition as one of the best Bruin MSWs.”

Since joining Community Coalition, Montes-Rodriguez has made significant strides in helping the organization grow and she has led efforts to raise funds to purchase and renovate its current headquarters in South L.A. “To be nominated by someone who understands the importance of building multiracial coalitions is really special,” she said of Hur.

She credits her success and inspiration to lessons learned at UCLA Luskin. Among those were leadership seminars led by Nunn, who focused on social welfare beyond the individual treatment model to build organizations and change the systems that prevent people from reaching their potential, taking on leadership roles to change those situations. She cited courses on leadership by social welfare professor Zeke Hasenfeld, as well as courses on grant writing and fundraising — skills that she said “were critical in helping us build community coalitions, long-term fundraising strategy and growing the organization.”

“The late Mary Brent Wehrli really brought us out to communities and organizations who were doing great work, went out of her way to help us understand the theory with the practice in communities,” Montes-Rodriguez said. Wehrli, a former member of the field faculty, was “one person who really pushed us to see leadership opportunities and a contribution we could make to the social welfare field, providing us with concrete training.”

“Since I graduated, that’s exactly the work I have been doing … organizing everyday people about having a voice in addressing the most-pressing issues so they can be the drivers of change,” Montes-Rodriguez said.

Another of Montes-Rodriguez’s mentors is Gerry Laviña, director of field education at the Department of Social Welfare.

“Community Coalition has hosted MSW interns for decades, provided summer jobs for our MSW students through their youth programs, and has hired many of our graduates — some like Aurea who remain and create and build capacity,” Laviña said. “Whenever someone asks about an example of a successful grassroots organization or doubts the possibility of African-American and Latino communities effectively working together, I hold up Community Coalition as a shining example.”

Montes-Rodriguez is a big reason why Community Coalition has been successful, Laviña said. “Aurea has had a part in all of this, and has been steadfast and resolved in her commitment to giving back to the community where she was both personally and professionally raised,” he said. “I have always appreciated Aurea’s blend of strength and humility, her commitment to her family and community. Los Angeles needs leaders like Aurea, and we need to highlight her as someone to aspire to.”

Social Workers Come Together for ‘This Incredible Conference’ At student-organized event, professionals and scholars gather at UCLA Luskin to hear experts discuss issues of vital importance to the Latina/o community

By Les Dunseith

It’s 8:30 a.m. on a sunny Saturday, and the second floor hallway of the Public Affairs Building at UCLA is abuzz with activity as professional social workers join UCLA Luskin students and faculty for a daylong series of lectures and workshops designed to help them do the best work possible for Latina/o populations in Southern California.

“People come from all over for this conference,” said Gerry Laviña, director of field education for the Department of Social Welfare, as attendees began to file into a large classroom to begin the 15th annual Social Services in the Latina/o Community Conference on May 13, 2017. “They look forward to it.”

One group, from Ventura County, even arrived two hours early. By the time Dean Gary Segura delivered his keynote address shortly after 9 a.m., a total of about 100 people were on hand. Other participants would continue to arrive as workshops proceeded throughout the day. The student-organized conference has become so successful, in fact, that advance registration had to be capped at 220 this year.

A 1988 graduate of UCLA Luskin’s MSW program, Laviña noted during his opening remarks that such popularity wasn’t always the case. When it began a decade-and-a-half ago, the conference “was struggling, struggling, struggling,” he said. “But now it’s this incredible conference — all for free — because of the hard work that the students have done.”

Christina Hernandez, a second-year Master of Social Welfare student and one of the three co-chairs of the Latina/o Caucus, said the conference is the culmination of a yearlong process that starts with the writing of grant applications soon after the academic year begins. This year, a total of about $7,000 in grant funding was obtained.

The six-member board of the Latino Caucus includes two first-year MSW students whose participation is designed to help them be better prepared to lead the caucus and its annual conference next year. It’s a tradition that Hernandez said benefited her personally, as it did her co-chairs and fellow MSW students, Sandra Cervantes and Corina López.

“In my first year, I saw the time commitment that was required for the conference,” Hernandez explained. “So going into this year, I knew that I had to give it my all in order to make it a successful conference.”

As the date drew nearer, the students worked with Laviña and their other faculty advisers, Sergio Serna and Hector Palencia MSW ’08, to issue a call for proposals from potential speakers on various topics. The number of applicants exceeded the time and space available, which led to a culling process.

“We select proposals that seem most appropriate,” said Hernandez, who also noted that the organizers seek a balanced program of workshops, in part because many professionals earn continuing education credit for licensing purposes by attending. For instance, “two really good candidates” proposed workshops on law-related topics, but only one of them made this year’s agenda.

That session, “Trauma-Informed Immigration Law for Social Workers,” was one of nine workshops that took place during the day, which included a lunch break that featured a performance by Aztec dancers. A sample of other workshop topics included “Critical Race Theory in Social Work Practice: Going Beyond Competency” and “Queer Latinx: Policy & Critical Discourse.”

Although workshop topics were highly varied, one theme that got a lot of attention was the symbolic and practical impact of Trump administration policies on the vital work being done by the social workers who interact on a daily basis with members of the Latino community.

The rhetoric from Washington has left many social welfare students and professionals — not to mention their clients in disadvantaged and immigrant communities — feeling fearful and angry.

In his keynote talk, Segura detailed examples of anti-immigrant rhetoric throughout history, noting that Latinos have often felt like unwelcome outsiders because of America’s prevailing Euro-centric culture and view of history.

“It is a reflection of our lives as being principally valued for our labor rather than our personhood,” Segura said, “persistently marginalized for our phenotype rather than any actual transgressions, and conceived of in the eyes of those who hold power as a community that is less than equal.

“At the Luskin School of Public Affairs, we like to say we create change agents,” Segura said during his talk. “I sure hope so. Because we so badly need change. Fight like our lives depend on it. They just might.”

Serna and Laviña offered similar thoughts during their own remarks.

“This act of being of service is an act of resistance to injustice and oppression,” Serna told the crowd. “We are sending a message of hope and solidarity to the communities we serve, while raising a fist to those that desire to restrict us and remove funding to deter us from our purpose.”

Laviña, his voice sometimes breaking with emotion, talked about the importance of taking the high road, especially amid political and policy uncertainty.

“In this time of anger and standing up, I think we need to rely not just on ‘othering’ people. Because we have all been the ‘other,’” he said. “So I hope that today you leave with tools and knowledge and, most importantly, an increased sense of community. Because we cannot do this work alone.”

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