Influential Women of Social Work Honored by Saint Leo University
The Bachelor of Social Work Program, along with NASW-FL, Leven ‘Chuck’ Wilson, presented awards to community partners and faculty and awarded scholarships to students.
Saint Leo University’s second Influential Women of Social Work event on March 6 celebrated women who work in the field, community partners that aid those in need, and outstanding students who have chosen a career to serve others and advocate for change to make sure individuals have access to adequate food, housing, and health care.
This year’s ceremony was held at the university’s Wellness Center at University Campus as well as online via Zoom.
The event was sponsored by Saint Leo University’s Department of Undergraduate Social Work and the National Association of Social Workers-Florida (NASW) Nature Coast Chapter and recognized and honored members of the public and the university community who have positively influenced people in need during the past year.
During International Women’s Month, this event celebrated and recognized trailblazers, but also championed opportunities to encourage other women to join this helping profession. In addition, March is National Social Work Month, and this year’s national theme is Social Work Breaks Barriers.
Guest speaker for the event was Dr. Jessica Garlock, a social worker with more than 25 years of experience in the field. Currently, Garlock is working with UNICEF to develop community-based responses to child protection in the Federated States of Micronesia.
Garlock discussed her career path, which included a practicum with a law office that wanted a social worker to gain a perspective on how to provide support to communities. The firm then focused on the issue of domestic violence. “It was the early days of corporate social responsibility, and I was excited to be a part of this,” Garlock said.
“I realized after that experiences that social workers belong everywhere,” she continued. “We don’t get invited often. But we need to push to break those barriers.”
Saluting Social Workers, Community Partners
Not only did the NASW-Florida Nature Coast Unit co-sponsor the event, but it also presented some awards. Christina Cazanave bestowed the honors. She is the director of internships and instructor for Saint Leo’s Undergraduate Social Work Program and also serves as the legislative chair for the NASW-Florida Chapter.
Reese Hathaway, a junior Bachelor of Social Work (BSW) student from Rhode Island, was named Social Work Student of the Year. Hathaway boasts a 3.98 GPA and is in the top 35 percent of the major, Cazanave said. She is a part of the e-board for the department’s Why Vote Campaign — a campus-wide voter registration initiative to break down the barriers caused by misinformation and voter suppression. She is a member of Tri-Sigma sorority and the Social Work Club.
“Time and time again, her professors and I learn from her, and she holds us accountable to the NASW values and Code of Ethics,” Cazanave said. “She sees the world through a lens of equity and justice and is intentional in making sure she is creating spaces that are inclusive for all.”
Khalilah Louis-Caines was named the Social Work Educator of the Year. Known by her students as “Professor KC,” Louis-Caines is the director of internships and an instructor in the Master of Social Work [MSW] Program and is an adjunct faculty member for the BSW Program for Saint Leo. She is weeks away from completing her doctoral program, Cazanave noted. “Her dedication to teaching the next generation of social workers makes her a powerhouse educator.”
One student said of Louis-Caines, “There are people who walk into our lives and leave footprints; Professor KC is one of them. Professor KC is someone who radiates positivity and authenticity while embodying the values of a true educator.”
Angie Bonfardino-Walesek received the Public Citizen Honoree Award, which honors an outstanding community member whose “accomplishments transcend the physical structures of their agency due to their heart for service.” Bonfardino-Walesek is the executive director and CEO of United Way of Hernando County (FL). She also is a member of the BSW advisory board and a task supervisor of BSW interns at her agency.
“She acts with courage by ensuring that members of her community are cared for and, that together, everyone creates a more compassionate society,” Cazanave said. “She is setting her agency on a course to promote diversity, equity, and inclusion and to seek justice for the residents of Hernando County through education, financial well-being, health care access, basic needs and crisis intervention, and community building.”
One Community Now, a nonprofit organization in New Port Richey, FL, was honored with the Rising to the Challenge Award. The NASW-FL Nature Coast Unit created this award to honor a local agency that has exceeded normal expectations to meet its community's needs during times of crisis, uncertainty, unrest, or disasters. “One agency has consistently supported Pasco residents' lives through the ever-growing changes we see in Pasco County [FL],” Cazanave said. “This agency aims to help children, families, and veterans who are homeless or at risk of becoming homeless to improve their health and economic condition. They collaborate with churches, businesses, schools, organizations, and government entities to help combine community resources to fulfill the mission.”
Saint Leo’s social work students also work with One Community Now at the annual Operation Stand Down for veterans. In addition, “During the start of the COVID pandemic, founder and executive director Patti Templeton once again stepped up to the plate by opening her doors to numerous BSW and MSW interns displaced due to the pandemic, Cazanave said. “She ensured our students completed their [internship] hours while giving back to the community through the agency’s Pack-A-Sack program — a school-based program designed to help address the problem of chronic hunger among school-age children.”
Brandie Grizzel was named the Social Work Trailblazer for dedicating her social work career to breaking barriers for those marginalized or oppressed in Pasco County. Through her work as a manager of permanent supportive housing with the Society of St. Vincent de Paul CARES in New Port Richey, FL, Grizzel “has ensured that those who are often forgotten, mistreated, and ignored, find the support and quality of care they deserve,” Cazanave said. “I had the pleasure of teaching our honoree, and even as a student, she spoke of her future clients as not individuals down on their luck, but humans who faced great adversity, in a world with tremendous barriers, who need a social worker, like herself.”
Saint Leo alumna Grizzel earned her BSW from Saint Leo in 2015. She understands that improving the lives of Pasco County residents means helping the next generation of social workers, and she serves on the BSW community advisory board and supervises interns annually, Cazanave noted.
“Her thoughtfulness as an internship supervisor has helped students from all backgrounds understand the dimensions of working with low-income and homeless individuals,” Cazanave said.
Scholarships Awarded to BSW Students
Thanks to the generosity of The Renew Group and its president, Dr. Leven “Chuck” Wilson, six scholarships were awarded during the March 6 event to Saint Leo University students pursuing Bachelor of Social Work degrees.
“Anyone who has a passion for serving communities, people and systems that impact people should consider a career in social work,” Wilson said. “Social work is a profession that has multiple disciplines that will allow an individual to pursue various interests in the areas of social work and services. I feel that serving people opens the world.”
To Wilson, Saint Leo’s social work programs educate students and instill them with the core values that produce quality social workers. “I chose to support Saint Leo’s BSW Program in order for others to have an opportunity to enroll and compete this amazing program and serve their communities.”
Wilson addressed those in the profession at the event: “I’m so happy that each of you have chosen a career of service,” he said. “Continue your journey and keep up the good work.”
Receiving scholarships were:
● Magan Martinez ($1,250) of Apollo Beach, FL;
● Karen Cummins ($750) of San Antonio, FL;
● Sylvia Chaney ($500) of Tampa;
● Reese Hathaway ($500) of Shannock, RI;
● Yvenie Desrosiers ($250) of Lehigh Acres FL; and,
● Brittany Pedraza ($250) of Spring Hill, FL.
Dr. Ebony Perez, assistant professor of social work and chair of the Bachelor of Social Work Program, praised each of the scholarship winners for their passion for social justice, critical-thinking skills, and their caring hearts.
“Continue to uplift future women leaders and future social workers,” Perez advised those in attendance.