It's National Social Work Month. Check out this video featuring Saint Leo MSW students as they reflect on a service learning project.

For students preparing to become social workers, it's one thing to read about counseling practices in a text book, to discuss concepts in class or even role play with other students.

And it's quite another thing to touch the arm of someone in need, look into his or her eyes and say the words that will bring comfort and hope.

Social work is a demanding field requiring extensive knowledge in social, behavioral and biological sciences.

But it also requires a host of essential skills that can be developed only with practice.

Skills such as empathy, active listening, patience, professionalism and persuasion.

While field education is an essential element of social work programs, including Saint Leo's online MSW program, additional opportunities to gain hands-on experience enhance students' preparation for future practice.

For a select group of Saint Leo graduate social work students in Florida, Pasco County's Stand Down was one such opportunity.

The perfect service learning opportunity

Dr. James Whitworth is an associate professor in Saint Leo's online MSW program, a clinical social worker and a retired U.S. Air Force Lieutenant Colonel with extensive experience in counseling military members, veterans and families. He says that Pasco's third Stand Down offered an ideal opportunity for graduate social work students to put theory into practice by using counseling skills to assist military veterans.

"It was the perfect service learning platform," says Whitworth, "an ideal opportunity for students to practice solid, research-based counseling approaches and skills and, at the same time, provide service to the local community."

Number one goal: supporting veterans

Stand Down is a grassroots community-based intervention program that helps the nation's estimated 67,000 homeless veterans manage life on the streets. The movement began in San Diego in 1988, and today more than 200 similar events are conducted each year nationwide.

In Pasco County, Stand Down is sponsored by many local public and private organizations, including Saint Leo University, which shares the common vision of supporting these often forgotten veterans. The annual event provides local veterans with a broad range of highly needed services including food, clothing, medical/dental care, benefits advice, personal care, haircuts, entertainment, and mental health services.

And thanks to the Saint Leo's MSW students and faculty, it was also the first time the Stand Down offered veterans free, confidential supportive counseling services.

Watch this short video to hear what the students who participated thought about the event.

For more than 40 years, Saint Leo University has educated and proudly supported the U.S. military. In 1973 our institution began offering classes to military students at the Avon Park Bombing Range in Highlands Park, FL, and later that year on MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa. In the decades since, we have educated tens of thousands of active duty military, veterans, and their families. Today, the military comprises nearly one-third of the university's total enrollment of more than 16,000 students.

National Social Work Month

The National Association of Social Workers has designated March as National Social Work Month. For more information about National Social Work Month 2015 or the social work profession, visit This year's theme is "Social Work Paves the Way for change."

Why are you interested in social work? Share with us in the comments below.

Image Credit: Courtesy Maria Martinez-Drovie, Saint Leo University

Video Credit: Danielle Carver/DC Graphics