Faculty Advisor Denise Arzola Recognized by the NASW Latino Social Work Task Force

The NASW Latino Social Work Task Force recently honored Denise Arzola, a faculty advisor at the NYU Silver School of Social Work, at its 9th annual awards dinner. Arzola was named a 2013 Distinguished Honoree for her leadership and work on behalf of the Latino community. She currently serves as the deputy director of community services at Bailey House, which provides housing for those who have HIV/AIDS, where she oversees agency operations.

An initiative under the National Association of Social Workers, the Latino Social Work Task Force was created to raise the awareness of the shortage of Latino social workers needed to serve the Latino community and to create a collaborative effort to address this need. It also provides scholarships to Latino social work students.

Through the course of her career Arzola has served as a case manager, inpatient social worker, and supervisor. She feels that part of the profession’s role is to create opportunities for others in the community. “I really believe it is my role to open doors to other people of color,” she said. “I grew up in the Lower East Side, and I'm always very aware of the issues around housing and poverty and trying to give back whenever I can.”

Arzola sees a clear link between her experiences as a child in the Lower East Side with her career as a social worker, and she finds herself incorporating her experiences into her work. As a case worker at a foster care agency during first job out of graduate school, she was exposed to issues in families such as mental illness, homelessness, substance abuse, HIV/AIDS, and chronic illness. She said, “I was young back then, I didn’t see the intersection.”

She eventually took a position at Beth Israel Medical Center as an inpatient social worker, and received mentorship under Clinical Assistant Professor Virge Luce, who was recognized in 2011 by the Latino Social Work Task Force.

“It was a very natural fit,” Arzola described. “My work in child welfare opened the door to work as a hospital social worker. While I kept moving into more administrative positions I never lost the clinical work.”

At Bailey House, she uses her leadership skills to weave through the intersection of issues facing families. “The future starts with a place to live,” Arzola explained. “Housing is a right, it’s not a privilege.” She recognizes that many clients have faced severe traumas that can manifest as symptoms, affecting one’s ability to rehabilitate his or her life. “Everything administrative and clinical decisions are geared towards preventing barriers to housing.”

In her role as field advisor at the NYU Silver, she provides guidance to students on issues current in the field, challenging textbook knowledge with real-world experience.

She noted that leadership in Latino students is necessary for the future of the social work profession. She said, “The Latino Social Work Task Force represents leadership power and commitment not only to the field of social work, but to the Latin American students that are striving to be leaders.”