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  October 4, 2004

Community Organization Program Marks Milestone

They work for state and city government, child welfare programs, women's groups or other organizations. Many have made contributions during their careers in grassroots organizing, civil rights advocacy, political organizing, and peace movements.

They are the people who earned their master's degrees at UConn's School of Social Work, and who chose community organization as their focus of study. Master's degree candidates in social work are required to focus on one of five concentrations: casework, group work, community organization, administration, or policy practice.

"The community organization focus is for students who want to do the kind of social work that is change-oriented," says associate professor of social work Louise Simmons, chair of the community organization concentration. "Their focus is on the larger community, rather than on the individual." About 12 percent of the some 400 students currently enrolled in social work take the concentration in community organization.

Simmons says the students in the program have diverse backgrounds and are a variety of ages. "Some students are older and are changing careers," she says. "Many are from different racial and ethnic backgrounds. The mix makes for great class discussion and interaction."

Julius Newman, a professor emeritus of social work who has continued to teach courses in social policy analysis and Holocaust studies at the school, was one of the first full-time faculty members in the program. "We built it from string, paper, and paste," he says. "There weren't many resources at the time."

He adds, "The program attracts people who are interested in social change." Rep. Christopher Donovan (D-Meriden), for example, was a graduate of the community organization program.

Others are in city government, work for United Way, or run shelters, he notes: "Many work in traditional social service agencies, but bring a community organization perspective."

The community organization sequence of the School of Social Work will celebrate its 35th anniversary Oct. 6. The event is co-sponsored by the Connecticut Chapter of the National Association of Social Workers, and will help launch a community organization network for graduates of the program and practitioners in the state. Julio Morales, professor emeritus of social work, and Newman will be honored at the event. Both are involved in many projects in their fields.