This year, the Graduate School of Social Work and Social Research celebrates its 95th year of carrying social justice forward! The GSSWSR's mission is built upon these pillars: leadership, community, radical roots and tradition/innovation. Featured here are alumnae/i who exemplify these pillars: Gloria Guard, M.S.S./M.L.S.P. '78, whose commitment to innovation in social work transforms Philadelphians' lives; and Clayton Ruley, M.S.S./M.L.S.P. '10, whose vision of community makes its presence on the web.
Grad student builds community via website
Top: Clayton Ruley, MSS/MLSP ‘10, co-founder of GeoClan.com and recipient of the GSSWSR Kevin J. Robinson Award for Commitment to Social Justice.
Bottom: Clip from “The Unemployed Game Show,” from GeoClan.com. Philly native Clayton Ruley believes there is a connection between creativity and community—and that building community will change the world. “If you participate in your community, you can share the wealth of your knowledge with other people,” says Ruley, M.S.S. '10 and Ruth Mayden Scholar. “I think that the more you associate with your community in a positive way, the more you will be encouraged to do better for yourself, your family, and for others in your community.”
Toward this end, Ruley founded GeoClan.com, a website in the business of “Uploading Change,” as its masthead pronounces.
“The heart of GeoClan,” says editor-in-chief Ruley, “is to give people the opportunity to express themselves through their voice, through their talents and skills. It's about making a positive change wherever you are, especially via the website, and through empowering, training, and workshops that we have in the community.”
The social nature of the internet works across personal boundaries to bring people together, Ruley believes. “Not everyone's going to be able to go to every school meeting or every local government function, so with social networking sites like GeoClan, people can stay connected and learn from each other.”
One video that appears on GeoClan is a droll rendition of a game show, titled “The Unemployed Game Show: Are You Unemployed?” The video pokes fun at the arcane and sometimes nonsensical definitions of who, technically, counts as unemployed.
GeoClan (“world family” according to Ruley) is building a hub of information for and by people of varied ethnic and cultural background to share creativity, opinions, and information with an international audience. “It is a lot more effective to advocate for what you want in your community if you have more people who actually know what's going on,” says Ruley.
Ruley and his partners also conduct workshops in their West Philly neighborhood to foster creativity and political activism. “I love education,” says Ruley. “I like the classroom atmosphere. The discussions that we have at the GSSWSR about current topics, as well as the development and history of social work, has been very informative and empowering to me, especially the law and social policy program which has added a third dimension to my ability to know the system and advocate and negotiate for clients and social change.”
Ruley invites everyone to participate in and contribute to GeoClan. “We believe that everyone should have a voice.”
Social work innovator is a ‘happy camper'
Gloria Guard, MSS/MLSP ‘78, president of the People's Emergency Center in Philadelphia. Gloria Guard has made a career of changing Philadelphians' lives by drawing from the deep well of social work tradition to fuel her visionary innovations. Guard (M.S.S./M.L.S.P. '78) has won many awards for her work over the years, including the 2005 Philadelphia Award. She was also named one of the “75 greatest living Philadelphians” by the Philadelphia Eagles and Dunkin Donuts. But arguably her greatest achievement is her stewardship of People's Emergency Center (PEC), growing it from a tiny, grassroots organization with a budget of less than $200,000 serving five families, to a multi-million dollar agency serving hundreds of women and children, and branching out into community and economic development.
Guard's creative vision in the face of Philadelphia's vulnerable families has led PEC to a number of “firsts”: the first on-site case management program for homeless families; the first model parent-child education program in a shelter; the first program to successfully transition homeless families to homeownership; and the first “one-stop” service center to help homeless and low-income mothers move from welfare to work. In partnership with the Pennsylvania Department of Public Welfare, PEC piloted E-Assist (one of the first programs of its kind in the country), which allows participants to submit paperwork to the welfare department via email, saving them hours each month that used to be spent meeting with staff at government agencies.
Guard, who is retiring from PEC's presidency this year, talks about what it takes to be innovative in the field of social work.
“Being innovative depends on three things,” she says. “One is being confident in the organization's stability. An organization needs to be pretty stable to take a lot of risks. You can't start out day one taking chances with your donor's money or with the programs for your clients.”
“The second thing is to get people on your team whom you trust and who will keep you from going over the cliff.
“The third thing is to talk to and keep the consumers at the front of your mind so that at the end of the day, your mission is being met and consumers are better off.”
Guard believes that Bryn Mawr's GSSWSR has a very clear philosophy about social work that is grounded in social justice. “So being innovative,” she says, “would be a direct outcome of an education from Bryn Mawr.”
“I've made a bunch of career and personal decisions in the past 10 years,” says Guard, “and at every point I've had to choose between what will be fun and creative—and what will earn money. I've gone for what's going to let me be creative and what's given me the opportunity to be a leader. And you know what? I'm a happy camper!”
GSSWSR honors alumna leaders
On May 28, at a dessert reception following the Reunion weekend welcoming dinner, four Graduate School of Social Work and Social Research alumnae/i were honored with the third annual leadership awards.
Sabina Neem, M.S.S./M.L.S.P. '07, received the Emerging Leadership Award. Neem, a former Ruth W. Mayden Scholar, served on the Mayor's Advisory Board on LGBT Affairs for the City of Philadelphia, the LGBT People of Color Coalition, and the Mayor's Taskforce on Homeless Services for Sexual and Gender Minorities. She recently relocated to Seattle, Washington, where she is working for the City of Seattle Youth Employment Program and has been appointed to the Trans & Queer Health Working Group.
Elizabeth Werthan '73 received an Exceptional Leadership Award. Werthan, the former executive director of Choice (Concern for Health Options: Information, Care and Education), for almost four decades has advocated for women and their families and their communities through public service and participation on numerous boards. She is a founding member of the GSSWSR's Board of Advisors.
Sharon Bishop, M.S.S. '70, also received an Exceptional Leadership Award. Bishop is co-founder of Calibre Associates, a consulting organization on human services and human resource issues. In 2005, when Calibre Associates was acquired by ICF International, Bishop became the senior vice president in ICF International's Caliber practice. Over the course of her 30-year career, Bishop has been responsible for more than 150 studies for federal, state and local government agencies, and nonprofit organizations.
Nancy Kirby, M.S.S. '65, received a Lifetime Achievement Award. For more than 30 years, Kirby has served as the GSSWSR's assistant dean and director of admissions, and advisor to the School's chapter of the National Association of Black Social Workers. She was a founding member of the National Association of Deans and Directors of Admissions of Graduate Social Work Programs and continues to serve on their steering committee. In addition, Kirby's commitment to the human services through participation of boards of directors is legend: in 2008, she was honored by the Inglis Foundation, with the Annie Inglis Gold Coin Award, the highest honor given by Inglis to individuals who have provided distinguished service for the benefit of the organization. In 2010, at the 50th anniversary commemoration of the Greensboro, North Carolina, Sit-ins, Nancy Kirby was honored as one of four unsung heroes.