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Social Work Community Outreach Service Celebrates Two Decades of Civic Engagement

The University of Maryland School of Social Work (SSW) has begun holding a series of events to mark the founding in 1992 of the School's Social Work Community Outreach Service (SWCOS).

"This is our big idea, and together we're celebrating 20 years of educating civic warriors," said SWCOS Director Richard "Dick" Cook, MSW '72, as he greeted students and alumni gathered in the SSW auditorium for the first event on Aug. 22. SWCOS, a social work agency connected with the SSW, serves those in need by focusing on individual/family obstacles, neighborhood/community assessment and building, and the development and support of community-based organizations.

Cook welcomed Ira Harkavy, PhD, associate vice president and founding director of the Barbara and Edward Netter Center for Community Partnerships, University of Pennsylvania. An internationally recognized expert in universities' roles in community capacity building, Harkavy delivered a lecture and signed copies of his books at a reception following the event.

The kickoff of SWCOS' 20th anniversary celebration also featured a panel of leading faculty and alumni who discussed community outreach. Shown in the photo above are, from the left, Tisha Edwards, MSW '00, JD, chief of staff, Baltimore City Public Schools; and Frank Patinella, MSW '02, education advocate, American Civil Liberties Union.

Future events, including a Nov. 1 presentation on citizen lobbying by public health advocate Vincent DeMarco, are open to others at the University of Maryland, Baltimore (UMB), and alumni may wish to check the schedule of events and register for continuing education credits.

In Harkavy's lecture, "The Role of the University in Reinvigorating Democracy and Restoring Local Communities," the prominent historian drew in part upon the relationships established by the University of Pennsylvania in West Philadelphia. He also described the contributions of John Dewey, a scholar and philosopher who influenced educational reform in the late 19th and early 20th centuries and whose work gained renewed relevance following the end of the Cold War and the development of the university civic engagement movement.

Harkavy is co-author of Dewey's Dream: Universities and Democracies in an Age of Education Reform, and of The Obesity Culture: Strategies for Change, Public Health and University-Community Partnerships. A video of his remarks is available online.

"Universities can have a profound impact on the quality of life of cities," he said, in bringing economic and human resources in response to a moral imperative. "If you can do something about these cities, you are ethically required to act."

Harkavy contended that benefits can be manifold for the neighborhood residents and for universities that provide opportunities for students to engage in interprofessional problem-solving. He asserted that when students learn to solve community problems their educational attainment is accelerated and they graduate with greater capacity to solve future problems. Results for communities and students "can be evaluated and studied over time," he said.

Further, he contended that perhaps the most valuable point of engagement between the neighborly university and the community is through university-assisted community schools. This has been a major focus of the Netter Center at Penn, and Harkavy encouraged the School of Social Work to continue its successful efforts to bring the resources of the University into the schools of Baltimore.

UMB President Jay A. Perman, MD, also spoke on the value of interprofessional education, emphasizing the importance that he and the University's strategic plan places upon initiatives that foster working across disciplines.

Richard P. Barth, PhD, MSW, dean of the SSW, noted the School's commitment to the work of SWCOS in the community and introduced benefactors who have made its work possible in public schools and other settings in Baltimore.

The panel was moderated by Michael Woolley, PhD, MSW, associate professor, and included Megan Meyer, PhD, MSW, associate professor. A discussion centering on social work and the schools was followed by a question-and-answer session.

Ali-Sha Alleman, MSW, assistant director, SWCOS, thanked participants for helping to commemorate the founding of SWCOS, which operates Community Schools, Neighborhood Fellows, Public Allies, and ReServe Maryland, among others. She also recognized the Rev. Edward Robinson, president and chief executive officer of Agape House, a longtime SWCOS partner organization.

The audience included a member of the first SWCOS class. Melanie Martin, MSW '94, chairs the SWCOS Community Advisory Board, with members from major agencies and constituencies in Baltimore. Currently serving as program consultant with the Maryland Family Network, Inc., Martin recalls the value of her student placement with SWCOS starting in 1992, when she began working at Lexington Terrace Elementary School near a high-rise residence that was later demolished.

"The way we did it," she said, required "building relationships, extending myself beyond the four walls, and going out into communities." This taught her a more holistic way to work with children and families than was traditional at the time, she said. And, in the process, she said she learned "the power of interns in fulfilling a mission."

Posting Date: 10/04/2012
Contact Name: Patricia Fanning
Contact Phone: 410-706-7946
Contact Email: pfanning@umaryland.edu