When Clark Williams, MSW '97, learned he had been named the 2010 Social Worker of the Year for Santa Clara County, he was shocked. "As social workers, we don't perform our work for honors or awards."
The award, handed out in March by his local chapter of the National Association of Social Workers, recognizes a social worker that exemplifies the best of the profession's values, demonstrates leadership, and inspires community action. The latter was the theme of this year's Social Work Month, and Williams' career epitomizes community action at work.
Williams, a consultant to nonprofit organizations, holds an array of community leadership positions in the San Francisco Bay Area, including serving on boards of the Silicon Valley Council of Nonprofits, the Santa Clara County Democratic Party, and the San Jose Appeals Hearing Board.
"I think what I do in my work, and what other social workers do in public service, is take knowledge from working with individuals and families and apply it across systems," he explained. "For example, I'm aware of the impact that a lack of children's health insurance has on a family. I take that knowledge and apply it to build services to benefit millions of families."
One role Williams enjoys most is chairing the San Jose Appeals Hearing Board. Many of the homeowners appealing property code violations are struggling with underlying mental health issues, often pushing cases beyond legal bounds.
Bringing a property into legal compliance often involves making referrals to mental health treatment. He said, "It takes lots of work to educate the city's code enforcement staff and to make sure fellow commissioners understand mental health issues before making a legal order."
In addition to his community roles, Williams works as a nonprofit management consultant. "I apply my work to nonprofits in the same way as I apply it to helping individuals in crisis."
Many of the organizations he advises are dealing with an emergency -- a slew of bad press, a major flaw in their business model, or financial ruin. Williams assesses the situation, provides initial steps out of the crisis, and then provides more systemic solutions. He consults in areas ranging from strategic planning to executive coaching to program and resource development.
Following graduation from the NYU Silver School of Social Work, Williams worked as a clinician in the Brooklyn District Attorney's Office. He then moved to the nonprofit world as the director of a Baltimore organization that served prostituting women. "It was there that I realized I enjoyed executive management, being in charge of social change, and saw my executive management skills as an extension of my advocacy for individuals and families."
This discovery led Williams into nonprofit consulting and public service, a career he never imagined when he graduated. And that is one valuable lesson he learned at the Silver School -- be open to the many ways to use one's education and training.
"I'm always curious as to where my social work career will take me," he said. "And I realize as someone who has a high public profile in this part of California and identifies as a social worker, to make sure I do my best work because it impacts the view of our entire profession."