Finding Their Voice in Albany

Touro’s Graduate School of Social Work Students Join Lobbying Effort in Albany

March 31, 2020
Almost two dozen GSSW students visited the state capital for the annual Social Worker Legislative Education and Advocacy Day (LEAD) held on March 3. Above, students pose for a photo with NY State Assemblywoman Mathylde Frontus.

Almost two dozen students at Touro’s Graduate School of Social Work (GSSW) learned about the power and responsibilities of their chosen profession at the Social Worker Legislative Education and Advocacy Day (LEAD) held on March 3. During the annual event, social workers and social work students travel to Albany to meet with their legislators and push for legislation related to the field.

This trip was dedicated to lobbying for Nicole’s Law, a law that requires hospitals and clinics to take a more pro-active role when dealing with suicidal patients, and for more funding for the social work loan forgiveness program.

The trip was organized and led by Jennifer Zelnick, MSW, ScD, Chair of Social Welfare Policy Sequence at GSSW.

The day began with an orientation featuring important figures in the social work field, including New York State Social Work Education Association (NYSSWEA) President Mohan Vinjamuri; NYSSWEA Board Member Lucinda Acquaye-Doyle; National Association Social Work (NASW) Board President Benjamin Sher; NASW Executive Director, Dr. Claire Green-Forde; State Senator Diane Savino (D-23); and Assembly Member Jaime Williams (D-59). After an orientation, students were divided into groups and sent to meet with their local representatives.

This was the second year that social work student Eden Mitrany took part in LEAD. “Advocacy is important because as social workers, we have to amplify our voices for the issues that are important to us and the communities we serve," said Mitrany who read over the pieces of legislation while waiting to meet her assemblyman on the fifth floor of the legislative building. "LEAD is the perfect opportunity to develop our advocacy skills while impacting the voting stances of policymakers in Albany. Thank you Touro for another out-of-the-class learning experience!" 

This was also the second year for social work student Gitty Kahn who visited her representatives from her Brooklyn neighborhood. “Last year, I realized how much power social workers actually have in advocacy and how much micro work and macro work are intertwined,” said Kahn. “It’s our responsibility to advocate for what we need for our profession.”

GSSW student Qiana Hobdy said that her group developed an easy rapport with one assemblyman who had just been visited by the parents of Nicolle Ettere, the namesake of Nicole’s Law. “That legislator was very knowledgeable about our talking points, but others were a bit disappointing,” said Hobdy. “We thought they would be more receptive, but this only taught us how important it is for social workers to be active on the policy side of our profession. A lot of things we see in practice are affected by policy and policy trickles down to us. The more active we are on the policy side, the better we will be able to help our clients.”

Several students said the best moment of the day came towards the end, when Dr. Zelnick arranged for them to meet Assemblywoman Mathylde Frontus (D-46) who, in addition to her work as an assemblywoman, works as a social worker. She spoke of the responsibilities social workers have, both on the micro and macro level.

“It was eye opening,” said student Tamminn Trail. “A lot of times people don’t know how far you can go with a social work degree. Seeing Assemblywoman Frontus right here representing us on a higher level speaks volumes. We can make changes. Our voices can be heard because we’re here. We’re the voice of thousands of people who can’t make it through the doors.”

Dr. Zelnick called the day and turnout “exceptional.”

"Students teamed up with social work students from around the state to blanket the legislative offices,” said Dr. Zelnick. “Many had impromptu discussions with legislators and were able to discuss the importance of our profession to the health and well-being of New Yorkers statewide. Students were inspired by our speakers, including elected officials with a background in social work. It was extremely gratifying to watch as students who were veterans of last year's event showed those who were new to LEAD the ropes, assuring them that although they might be nervous now, they would soon find their voice as an advocate in Albany."