Diana Ming Chan: Her National Legacy

Aug 7, 2008

by Bob Arnold, Director, NASW Foundation

I am so very honored to be here today representing the National Office of the National Association of Social Workers and our 150,000 social worker members.

My name is Bob Arnold, and I am here from Washington, DC.

I would like to share a little about Diana’s impact and legacy at the national level.

As Director of the National Association of Social Workers Foundation in Washington, DC, I feel fortunate to have known Diana for the past six years.

I joined NASW in 2001 and learned about Diana—and her family.

I learned that in 2000, Diana, along with Mr. Chan and son Harrison, had committed a significant amount of funds to establish the Learning Springboard Endowment, designed to support social workers in San Francisco public schools. They had decided to donate the funds to the NASW Foundation, in part because of the leveraging effect the donation to a national organization could have.

I learned of her work with the Asian & Pacific Islander Caucus—with Janice Wong and Nancy Lim-Yee and others—and the NASW California Chapter—and Janlee Wong—and the San Francisco public schools—with Trish Bascom. And I learned of her work with Learning Support Services Advocates.

In October 2002, the Executive Director of the National Association of Social Workers, Dr. Betsy Clark, and I spent several days with the Chan Family here in San Francisco. Dr. Clark wanted to have been here today but is on a social work trip to South Africa. We saw firsthand Diana’s influence and impact on the San Francisco area.

But I am here to tell you that Diana’s impact is much larger than San Francisco—or even California. It is indeed national.

The Learning Springboard Endowment, of course, has had a lasting impact. It has helped children and families in San Francisco who have benefited from the work of social workers. We have told the story, many times and in many ways, to our 150,000 members and to the public. Various individuals—and various NASW chapters—have been inspired by the story and it has encouraged their efforts to increase social workers in public schools in their own states.

But Diana has also had a lasting impact on many different efforts at the national level. Here are just a few examples:

In May 2005, Diana was one of two people selected by NASW to be featured nationally during Asian Pacific American (APA) Heritage Month. Her story—her passion for children—the story of how social workers can help—and how one person can make a real difference—was featured. Tens of thousands of people all over the country learned about Diana.

Last year, Diana was elected an NASW Social Work Pioneer®. Being elected an NASW Social Work Pioneer® is one of the highest honors in the field of social work. Pioneers are elected by their peers. To date, out of more than a million social workers who have lived during the last 100 years, only about 600 have been elected NASW Social Work Pioneers®.

Pioneers are role models for future generations of social workers. Because of her work, Diana was elected to be part of this select national group. Her name is forever on a brass plaque in the Pioneer Room in our National Office. A short biographical profile of her is on our national website.

Why is this important? The NASW National Web site receives an average of 150,000 visitors and over 2 million hits every month.

If you google “Diana Ming Chan”—the number one story you will find is her NASW Social Work Pioneer® biography.

Diana also played an important role in a national project related to Eliminating Disparities at End-of-Life. The NASW Foundation received a grant to carry out three town hall meetings around the country and to collect the input given at the community level. One of the locations was San Francisco. Diana helped with the planning and presented a session in February 2007 on working with the Asian American community. The results of this meeting were incorporated into our final report back to the national foundation—the Aetna Foundation—and can serve to shape their future programs.

One year ago, in October 2007, Clarence and Diana attended an NASW event here in San Francisco. Diana pulled several of us aside and told us her ideas—that we needed to create materials to promote social work—and social workers—to high school career counselors. We took Diana’s ideas to heart and they are now an integral part of our National Social Work Public Education Campaign and our national efforts for Social Work Month in March 2009.

Diana also assisted and advised on NASW’s federal efforts. In February and March 2008, the Dorothy Height and Whitney Young Social Work Reinvestment Act was introduced into the United States House of Representatives and the US Senate. The Act calls for increased funding and support of professional social workers—so that families and communities will be better served. Knowing of her work in California, NASW National Office staff sought out Diana’s insights and wise counsel as to strategies and advice—and found her input helpful.

As a tribute to Diana, Diana’s family and friends, the Asian Pacific Islander Social Worker Council, the NASW California Chapter and the NASW Foundation have recently established a scholarship fund to honor Diana’s memory and support her legacy. We have received numerous donations and look forward to being able to support one or more social work students through the Diana Ming Chan Scholarship.

Diana’s story—the story of how one energetic woman had a vision of what the world could be like and pressed on—working with others and never giving up—giving generously of her own time and her own funds– continues to be told, and she will continue to inspire everyone who hears of her work, including current—and future—social workers.

We miss her terribly. But while we mourn her passing, we at the NASW National Office, and I personally, pledge to do all we can to continue the good work and to carry on the legacy of this very special lady.

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