“She didn’t know me at all, but she was so excited to see a Fordham student that she took me under her wing,” said Lee, who, thanks to Congress, is now interning at the United Nations. “She brought me to different meetings and introduced me to everyone.”
The incident speaks volumes about Congress’ willingness to help the next generation of social workers, said Robert Schachter, D.S.W., former executive director of the New York City chapter of the National Association of Social Workers (NASW-NYC).
“That speaks to Elaine’s enthusiasm about the next generation entering the profession,” said Schachter. “She has no airs, and nobody can match Elaine’s propensity to mentor and support students and new professionals.”
On Oct. 19, NASW-NYC will be presenting Congress with its lifetime achievement award. Schachter also cited Congress’ extensive publications that focus on ethics, immigration, and diversity in the social work profession.
He said that he worked closely with Congress when she was president of the NASW-NYC from 1998 to 2000. At the time, the diversity of the field’s professionals did not reflect their clients’ diversity. At NASW-NYC, Congress made balancing the profession’s diversity a priority.
“She brought everybody together and got them talking,” he said. “At the time, the conversations were very unusual in how frank they were.”
From African-American to Latino to Asian to LGBT, Congress pressed the leaders in the profession to incorporate a multicultural perspective when working with families and individuals.
“Her concerns around equality, diversity, and social justice in her writing is known throughout the community,” said Debra McPhee, Ph.D., dean of GSS.
Congress began her career as a clinical practitioner before she turned to academia. Schachter said that is one important reason why the profession is honoring her.
“That’s what makes her academic contributions so integral, because she understands the work,” he said. “That holds a high value in the social work profession: many people have researched social work, but she exemplifies it.”
Her clinical experience and reputation have made Congress an invaluable asset to the University, said McPhee.
“There isn’t anybody in the profession who doesn’t know Elaine,” she said. “The two most common questions we get are ‘Do you have a Ph.D. program,’ and ‘Is Elaine Congress still teaching there?’”