The School of Social Work hosts 37th annual national rural social work conference in Nashville

The 37th annual National Institute for Social Work and Human Services in Rural Areas drew participants from 26 states and Canada to Nashville, Ind. for a four-day conference.

The conference, “Rural Social Work at the Crossroads: Building Capacity, nurturing Sustainability” was hosted by the Indiana University School of Social Work July 15-18.

Rural ConferenceScott Sorensen, the National Rural Social Work Caucus President, and an Associate Professor of Social Work at the University of Utah, welcomed people to the conference and noted the annual rural conference shows a “great tradition and history for rural human services in America.”

Michael Patchner, Dean of the IU School of Social Work, also greeted the attendees, noting that he grew up in rural America in Pennsylvania, the son of an immigrant coal miner. He praised rural people for their spirit of helping and caring for each other.

Dean Patchner also introduced the conference’s keynote speaker, Richard A. Reed, the Vice President of Preparedness and Resilience Strategy for the American Red Cross. Before moving to the Red Cross earlier this year, Reed served as Special Assistant to the President of the United States for National Security Affairs and Senior Director for Resilience Policy.

Reed worked for 20 years in the federal government, including with the Indianapolis Veterans Administration. He spent the last six years at the White House. When disasters occurred in the United States or abroad in recent years, Reed was usually involved in the efforts to help those affected. Reed received his BSW and MSW degrees from the IU School of Social Work and it was the skills he learned as a social worker that allowed him to be so effective at the White House, the dean said.

Through the use of his assessment skills, Reed could ask the basic questions and get diverse experts to work together. “People would look at him as a leader,” the dean said. “He put his skills and talents into helping people when they are in the most vulnerable time of their life. He is the one who cares; he is the one who pulls people together to give them hope.”

Reed started off his remarks by thanking the social workers for the jobs they do every day.  What’s more, social workers by the nature of what they have a role to play in the resilience of their communities, Reed said. Resilience and preparedness are about looking to ensure communities have the capabilities to deal with disaster should they occur, he noted.

“While you can’t necessarily prevent Mother Nature from doing what she does so well, there are things you can do to lessen the impact.” The federal government now has a policy that calls upon everyone to participate in dealing with disasters, from government agencies to the private sector and nonprofit agencies alike, he explained.

A study has been done that looks at all the disasters in the U.S. between 1964 and 2010 where states asked the federal government for assistance. What it shows is that while there are a few counties where no disasters have occurred, most counties have faced the same issues time and time again, be it floods, tornadoes, or wild fires. While the timing of such events is uncertain, the study gives communities a good picture of what they need to recover from natural disasters.

What is needed is for communities have conversations about the types of things they can do to buy down the risk, such as clearing trees around power lines. Help from the outside after a disaster is important, but it can’t substitute be a substitute for the relationships in a community, Reed said.

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Rob Schneider
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