Acceptance Speech: Jennifer Lunden Named Maine’s 2012 Social Worker of the Year

I am honored to announce that the Maine Chapter of the National Association of Social Workers has named me Maine’s 2012 Social Worker of the Year for my advocacy to protect health insurance for low-income Mainers. The following is my acceptance speech.

Social Worker of the Year

You know, I wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for Susan Lamb.[1] I wouldn’t be on this stage, and in fact I wouldn’t even be a member of the NASW. I had let my membership lapse for quite a number of years, and then the Possibilities debacle happened.[2]

I remember sitting at my computer on the Maine Counseling Group listserv, reading long threads in which many of us who had been affected tried to figure out what was going on and how to get help. We hadn’t been paid for weeks, and many of us were in dire straits. Members of our group had tried contacting the DA’s office, had tried DHHS, had talked to lawyers, had tried to get help from another counselor’s association—all to no avail. We who put our hearts and souls into helping others could find nobody to stand up for us.

Then one day someone posted a new message. She had just gotten off the phone with Susan Lamb, the new director of the Maine Chapter of the NASW. And by new, I mean new! She was two weeks in to her position, and she listened to what was happening and could see that something was terribly wrong, and she vowed to do whatever she could to help us. I can’t tell you what it meant to me that she did that. I told her if she helped us get paid, I would use some of that money to reestablish my membership with the NASW, and that’s just what I did.

That is the very important back story to why I am standing here on this stage talking to you right now. Because Susan modeled what we are called to do as Social Workers. It’s right there in our Code of Ethics: We are called to challenge social injustice.

When Governor LePage announced in December that he wanted to strip MaineCare coverage from 65,000 low-income Mainers, I worried for my clients and for all the people across the state whose lives would be impacted by these cuts. I emailed my legislators and told them my concerns, but that just didn’t feel like enough. I felt helpless. Sort of the way I felt helpless when Possibilities stopped paying me and 400 of my colleagues.

One day, it dawned on me there was something more I could do. I decided to write a petition. I called it “Save Healthcare for Low-Income and Disabled Mainers,” and it grew slowly, and then it grew quickly. It was a little like playing the slots, every time I hit the refresh button. People passed it around through email and Facebook, and three weeks later my petition had almost 10,000 signatures.

The budget crisis is far from over. As taxes continue to get slashed, things are looking very grim for Maine’s most vulnerable citizens. But here is what I have learned about our political system since I wrote that petition. Our legislators are just people. Just people, like you and me. And it is their job to listen to us. We need to let them know what we think. We need to make our voices loud and strong. So email your legislators, call them, write them letters. And if there is something you are passionate about, and you really want to make them listen up, write a petition, just like I did.

You can also reach a large audience by writing a letter to the editor. Talk to your friends. Organize. Protest. Pick a candidate who stands up for your values—and they’re out there—and volunteer for their campaign. Or heck, run for office! This is a participatory democracy. We forgot that for awhile, it seems, and we let the wealthiest 1% grab the reins. But we have begun taking them back, and we will need to continue to do our work vigilantly. Because here’s what I’ve come to learn as a more active activist. When one person steps up, others are inspired to step up, too. And we need all the help we can get.

I am deeply honored to accept this award. Thank you to the members of the Board, and thanks again, Susan, for leading the way.

[1] Susan Lamb is the Executive Director of the Maine Chapter of the National Association of Social Workers, which has as its acronym “NASW.”

[2] When I refer to the “Possibilities debacle,” I’m talking about when the statewide agency-without-walls suddenly underwent a mysterious and munumental shakeup in 2011 and stopped paying over 400 clinicians, including me.