Dr. Lena Green, MSW ’01/DSW ’18, Awarded NASW-NYC's Highest Honor

Dr. Lena Green
Dr. Lena Green

Dr. Lena Green, MSW ’01, DSW ’18, received the National Association of Social Workers, New York City Chapter’s (NASW-NYC) Social Work I.M.P.A.C.T. Award at the chapter’s annual meeting on October 16, 2019. The award, which is the chapter’s highest honor, is presented to a social worker who “exemplifies the commitment to social justice, equity, empowerment, and civil rights, through their work, research, advocacy, practice, embodiment of the social work profession, and their dedication to the communities and individuals they serve.”

In her more than 15 years of direct practice and management experience as a clinical social worker, psychotherapist, fatherhood practitioner, and administrator, Dr. Green has had a tremendous impact on countless New Yorkers, particularly on fathers and families, and Black and Brown communities.

After earning her MSW in 2001, Dr. Green worked in the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office providing crisis-intervention services, psychotherapy, and group counseling to victims of crime. From there, she moved to the New York City Department of Health, where she served as Manager of Mental Health and Strategic Partnerships for the then-new Nurse-Family Partnership program. In 2011, Dr. Green founded the Akira Center, a free community-based social service program in Harlem, which focuses on fatherhood, healthy relationships, mental health, and promoting open dialogue around the destigmatization of father absence and mental health in men. She continues to serve as the Executive Director of that all-volunteer program to this day. And in 2015, the same year she began the DSW program at NYU Silver, she became the Administrative Director of Social Services at the New York City Human Resources Administration (HRA). She was promoted to Deputy Director of the Office of Substance Use Policy, Planning, and Monitoring at HRA shortly before she earned her doctoral degree in May 2018.

Dr. Green is a passionate advocate for fathers, who, she explained, are marginalized and experience considerable stigma around their parenting skills and styles, and, especially when they are fathers of color, are often portrayed as absentee. “Many fathers want to be there for their children,” she said, “but they face challenges that preclude them from doing so.” To advance clinical practice with fathers, Dr. Green’s DSW capstone project focused on increasing practitioner knowledge and leveraging their potential to improve outcomes for fathers and families. It is knowledge she applies routinely in her work at the Akira Center and she is gratified to see other practitioners being more mindful of these issues as a result of her leadership. “Even if it is just getting clinicians to think about the lens through which they see men and how they take into account their experiences as parents,” she said, “I think it helps a great deal.”

Dr. Green credited strong partners in the community with enabling her to meet the demands of running the Akira Center on top of her leadership position at HRA. “We have dedicated volunteers and partner agencies with deep community roots so I am not doing this work alone.”

Recently, she noted, the Akira Center has expanded its efforts to strengthen relationships between couples, particularly those who are parenting apart. “While we have focused on co-parenting before, it is an area of practice in which we are trying to increase our skills, partnerships, and information. I actually moderated a panel for HRA's Office of Child Support Services on ‘How Co-Parenting Works: Taking a Look at Three Program Models’ specifically because of the work we have been doing at the Akira Center.”

While Dr. Green distinguished the work she does at HRA from that at the Akira Center, she said, “One of the things I try to talk about in all of my work is being mindful of anti-oppressive practice and weaving social justice into the framework. At HRA, I draw on my clinical background and my strength in program planning and development. I work very closely with vendors that are providing services to substance using clients and I am always sure to bring up the social determinants of health in substance use, trauma, mental health and other challenges that often co-occur. I promote that broader perspective and encourage case managers to connect clients to resources in the community beyond those related to substance use.”

The Social Work I.M.P.A.C.T. Award is not the first honor Dr. Green has received from NASW-NYC. In 2015, she received the chapter’s Mid-Career Leadership Award. Four years later, Dr. Green is still in mid-career and aspires to serve in even higher administrative leadership in the future. “I have had great experience, rigorous training, many excellent mentors, and have leadership and visionary development skills to share. Certainly earning my DSW helped me ascend to my current post and will open doors to further opportunities.”

Dr. Green made special note of the leadership training she received in the DSW program and particularly the foundation in the adaptive leadership framework she gained from her mentor, Clinical Associate Professor and Katherine and Howard Aibel Executive-in-Residence Linda Lausell Bryant. In addition to taking Dr. Lausell Bryant’s course in Adaptive Leadership for Organizational Change, Dr. Green served as a teaching assistant for future cohorts, and continues to work with Dr. Lausell Bryant on supporting alumni along their adaptive leadership trajectories. Moreover, she said, she applies principles of adaptive leadership in all of her positions on a daily basis.

Dr. Green also expressed gratitude to DSW Program Director and Professor Carol Tosone, and program faculty members Professor Jeane Anastas, Clinical Assistant Professor Kirk “Jae” James, and retired Associate Professor Theresa Aiello. She made special mention of Clinical Associate Professor Peggy Morton. “She was one of my professors in the MSW program,” said Dr. Green of Dr. Morton. “Since I graduated in 2001, she has always encouraged me to stay in touch. She is the reason I was a field supervisor for NYU Silver MSW students for many years, and she is the reason I became an adjunct faculty member and continue to teach at the school to this day. She has been a great source of support for me since my MSW days.”