Clinical Associate Professor Sandy Speier Honored by NASW Westchester Division

The Westchester Division of the National Association of Social Workers has awarded Clinical Associate Professor Sandy Speier the Merit Service Award. Speier was honored at the NASW Westchester Division's 2013 Westchester Celebration of Social Work Awards Dinner on Thursday, March 21.

Speier was recognized for her leadership with NASW Westchester, her work as a mentor, and her contributions to the values of the social work profession. Since 2003, Speier has co-facilitated the Division's Mentorship Program for professional social workers and social work students. The group meets once a month and members come looking to network and receive support from other people in the field. Meetings often include a guest speaker and discussion of issues such as ethics, supervision, job searching, and dealing with trauma.

Clinical Associate Professor Susan Gerbino founded the Mentorship Program and nominated Speier for the Merit Service Award. The program's third facilitator is Bob Schavrien, a retired social worker.

"Sandy has added immeasurably to the program," said Gerbino. "She is a group specialist and it has helped having an expert group leader run the program." She underscored Speier's ability to keep the group on task, model group leadership behaviors, and ensure that the group is a safe space for members -- all key to the Mentoring Program's success.

Speier's background working in mental health settings -- experience different from Gerbino's and Schavrien's -- has also been valuable. Gerbino explained, "Many of the group members are working in mental health settings, and Sandy has been able to guide them in their clinical work and, most importantly, in how to navigate the complex psychiatric health care system."

Speier laughed as she noted that her true dedication to the group shows in her willingness to give up her extra sleep for the group's Saturday morning meetings.
She expressed gratitude for how much group members share of themselves and how much she learns from the program members. Her participation in the group allows her to keep one foot in the field and stay up-to-date on issues facing social workers.

"I am able to talk about my experiences, having done outpatient and inpatient psychiatry for so many years and having been an administrator in a psychiatric setting," she said. "I am able to offer guidance that I hope is valuable, but to hear how people are managing and negotiating and navigating is just inspiring."

Since she has never wanted to be anything but be a social worker, Speier has found it quite humbling to be honored for a job she loves. In her acceptance speech at Thursday's dinner, she said since the receiving news about the Merit Award she had been thinking a lot about her parents -- both immigrants and Holocaust survivors.

"Their life experiences were part of the reason I was attracted to working with and empowering the disenfranchised people in our community who do not have a strong voice and need help," she said. "Their ability to rebuild their lives was inspirational."

Besides recognizing her colleagues and people in the Mentorship Program, Speier also thanked her clients, who taught her how to do her work and exemplify the important qualities her parents demonstrated. "Our clients are the true mentors in our profession," she said. "They teach us strength and resilience of the human spirit by enduring more hardships than most of us can imagine."