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Superstars Who Serve


You would be hard-pressed to find a more passionate group than I had the pleasure of spending last week with. They are the social workers who attended the National Association of Social Workers’ National Conference in Washington, DC. This year’s conference theme was Shaping Tomorrow Together. As an attendee, it couldn’t have been clearer that every one of these angels among us has a heart and passion for the important work they do.

They began the Conference taking a stand for families as they went to Capitol Hill and their collective voices were heard on the current immigration issues. It was so powerful to be in that room when the policy separating children from their parents was changed. The sea of applause, hi-fives and hugs was a celebration that rivaled a championship win by your favorite team. This victory was important because of the impact to families not only here in the United States, but also those attempting to enter our country.

In his remarks, Senator Cory Booker affirmed social workers for tirelessly seeing people, potential, and purpose. He also reminded the audience that: “Life is not about celebrity, it’s about significance. It’s not about popularity, it’s about purpose. It’s not about how many people show up when you’re dead, it’s about how many people you served when you were alive.” These words were a call-to-action for those in social service and for each of us in a position to do something for someone else.

My personal highlight was Young Leaders Shaping Tomorrow. Gernani Yutob, Jr., Julia Spoor, Karina Velasco, and Sixto Cancel were the superstars sitting on this panel. Each of them has made their mark by translating their personal tragedies into a commitment to serving others. At only 16, Julia is a high school student and Co-Founder of Students Demand Action. Wisdom and maturity far beyond her years came to mind while listening to her speak of how her father’s suicide has fueled her desire to end gun violence. She spoke with an unwavering determination after her experience in a school shooting in Broward County, FL. We were assured that she won’t stop talking…when one person won’t listen to her, she finds someone who will.

Both Gernani and Sixto experienced life in foster care and are using their platforms to serve others in the system. Gernani was instrumental in working with DHS, the courts and legislators to increase Hawaii’s allowable age for receiving higher education board payments to age 27. He also helped to extend voluntary care to age 21 and Medicaid for aged-out foster youth to age 26. Sixto is the CEO of Think of Us. Through his organization, he’s using the power of technology to change foster care system policies and practices. He’s recognized as a Forbes 30 Under 30, Top 24 Under 24 Changemakers in Government and a White House Champion of Change in Foster Care. Whether at the local, state or national level, we’ll be hearing more from these dynamic young men.

Karina Velasco works with the Unaccompanied Minor Post Release Services program. She provides case management services and assessment to children and youth who are in the care of the Office of Refugee and Resettlement. She is committed to continuing to make certain that each child and family receive necessary services. Because of her work, this was an emotional time for Karina but she is poised to continue serving and work to reform immigration.

One of the most profound statements this week came from Sixto Cancel. He said, “If you’re going to shape tomorrow, you have to solve some problems today.” Social workers have been problem-solvers since the 19th Century. Their work is vital, and the Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts the need for them to continue growing. In a world with many complex issues in public and private sectors alike, social work is so much more than a career. It is a calling. From NASW’s CEO, Angelo McClain, to the most recent college graduate entering the profession, they’ve answered the call. These agents of change are laser-focused on improving the quality of every life they touch.

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