Social work isn’t just a profession. It’s a calling to serve.
Students at the Robert Stempel College of Public Health & Social Work take that calling seriously. For the past 14 years, FIU’s chapter of the Phi Alpha Honor Society has been recognized with the National Chapter Service Award.
Most recently, the group received the award for its outstanding contributions during 2019-2020. The students led a number of projects and hosted events, both in-person and virtually, to support a variety of community members.
For example, in March of 2020 (right before the pandemic hit Florida) they hosted a prom night-style dance at the Graham University Center ballroom for adults with physical and developmental disabilities. They also collaborated with the Counseling and Psychological Services office to raise awareness about mental health issues and, separately, organized an ongoing sock drive for the homeless. When the pandemic struck, they began hosting virtual competency-building webinars for members on topics such as cultural competency.
Another highlight: Organizing a “comfort room” at the 2020 No More Broken Hearts Conference, a domestic-violence prevention and education event sponsored by a school board member and held at a local school. The FIU students’ goal was to provide a calming space for anyone triggered by the heavy topic under discussion. Phi Alpha students worked with a team of Panthers that included faculty and student members of the Public Health Association, Student Social Work Association and the Dietetics and Nutrition club to turn a classroom into a meditation room with aromatherapy, coloring and other stress-relieving activities, stuffed animals, healthy snacks and spa music, all to the delight of the conference attendees.
“Things like this just make me want to do more and offer more,” says Maiah Duckstein, president of the FIU chapter. “[The award] was validation for all of our hard work and the work of everybody that came before us. We are here to serve the community and to help people get the access to the resources they need. Service comes with the territory of social work.”
Advocacy plays a role in their mission, too. On Legislative Education and Advocacy Day in January of 2020, members of the Phi Alpha Honor Society and Student Social Work Association journeyed to Tallahassee to join the National Association of Social Workers in meeting with legislators. They rallied for bills in support of children, social welfare, aging persons and their caregivers, as well as those affected by mental health and behavioral issues.
Jodi Szabo, vice president of the chapter, says that in the end, the award is a reminder that people do care about giving back. “We are humbled to know that we are all in this together to be of service to the community.”