For 15 years, the Social Work Community Outreach Service (SWCOS), the outreach arm at the University of Maryland School of Social Work, has served the larger community, bringing service and innovation to the Baltimore area's needy families, individuals, and communities.
SWCOS kicked off its celebration on April 17 with a daylong event that included three tours of Baltimore neighborhoods in which SWCOS' students are making an impact. Following the tours, the event continued with a luncheon that featured remarks by Jody Olsen, MSW '72, deputy director of the Peace Corps; a keynote address by Richard P. Barth, PhD, dean of the School; and a discussion with SWCOS alumni as panelists.
Three tours showcased the work that SWCOS interns do with the growing immigrant communities in East Baltimore, with community building and resident leadership programs in North Baltimore, and within the school system in South Baltimore.
In East Baltimore, SWCOS students address employment issues, education, and community development in an ethically and racially diverse environment. Tour leader Randa Deacon brought alumni, community partners, and other visitors to CASA de Maryland, where field instructor Liz Alex and student intern Irene Muniz work with new Hispanic-Americans at a day labor center and on immigration issues. Later the group stopped at the Patterson Park Charter School to see SWCOS' outreach to Latin American elementary students. At the nearby library, SWCOS interns work to strengthen diverse East Baltimore neighborhoods that are changing due to urban development.
In North Baltimore, graduate students who are Peace Corps returnees and other SWCOS interns work with community activists to strengthen leadership development in the area. The first stop on this tour showcased students Frank Patinella's and Christina Escobar's work with the Reservoir Hill Improvement Council. In the Charles Village Community Benefits District, student Michael Gaffney is working to improve vacant lot developments and in the Belair-Edison neighborhood, student intern Julia Freed's goals include working with community leaders to help prevent home mortgage foreclosures and to develop community block projects.
The third tour showcased SWCOS'work in South Baltimore at the Maree Garnett Farring Elementary School and at the Benjamin Franklin Middle School. SWCOS interns have helped community and school leaders enhance learning while meeting the mental health, social, and economic needs of an area of the city that has long felt neglected by city government because of its natural geographical barriers.
After the tours, the group returned to the School of Social of Work. Olsen told the crowd during the luncheon, "You are lucky to have returning Peace Corps volunteers, and they are lucky to have you. Peace Corps volunteers bring two to three years of experience living and working in a totally different culture," she said.
Olsen also said that returning Peace Corps volunteers are lucky to have a place such as the School of Social Work where they can continue to develop their leadership skills. "I was at an event when two volunteers-unrelated to each other-came up and asked me about the University of Maryland School of Social Work graduate program because they had heard about it or seen it listed on the Peace Corps Web site."
During his keynote address, Barth discussed how evidence-based practice can be applied to clinical work within communities. ýA discussion featuring alumni panelists-Jessica Contreras, MSW '00, board chair of the Latino Providers Network; Robin McKinney, MSW '01, project director of Maryland Asset Building Initiative; and Melanie Martin, MSW '94, program consultant with Friends of the Family-wrapped up the celebration with a lively interchange describing how SWCOS experience led to their positions and prepared them to collaborate with private and public funders and diverse populations. They also discussed how their SWCOS experience helped them to work with existing advocates and educational providers to bring about improvements, empowerment, and changes within the communities where they now work.