ISU social work students advocate for rights during Statehouse demonstration

March 1 2006

With their pickets in hand and signs on their backs, social work students from Indiana State University, along with more than 600 students from across Indiana, circled the Indiana Statehouse and demonstrated their concerns for issues such as poverty and rights for children.

The demonstration in February was part of a program called LEAD - Legislative Education Advocacy Day.

Emily Greene of Richmond, a senior social work major at Indiana State University and this year's Bachelor of Social Work Outstanding Student of the Year, said she urged her peers to stand up and advocate for the rights of people who could not stand up for themselves.

"LEAD is important because the participants who come away from the day come away motivated and excited about the causes, legislative bills and advocating for their clients," Greene said.

This is the second year Greene has attended LEAD, and she said it has motivated her to get involved in state government.

Kathy Byers, a co-founder of LEAD and the program director for the bachelor of social work program at Indiana University, said this is the sixth year for LEAD.

"It's a program designed to get social workers and students familiar with the legislative process and encourage them to get active, and comfortable in advocating politically for their clients," Byers said.

ISU sophomore Charla Freeman of Brazil, came to LEAD to learn how to make a difference.

"I want to promote change between families and children in the legislative process and in regular life," Freeman said. "I want to advocate for children's rights, getting children taken care of and getting them off the streets and out of poverty. I really want the legislators to focus on this next generation that is going to grow up."

In the future, Freeman says she would like to earn her master's degree, run for political office and open her own children's center in Terre Haute.

Freeman's attitude and enthusiasm is just what Rhonda Impink, ISU assistant professor of social work, wants her students to leave LEAD with.

Impink said she wants them to leave with a working understanding of the legislative process, and also to connect what she teaches in the classroom with what is going on in real life.

"We [social workers] are the experts and we have to be recognized as such," Impink said. "We know what's going on with people who are in poverty and who's trying to make the rent and buy groceries at the same time.

"We have to be recognized. There has been a tendency in the past to denigrate social workers and call them do-gooders. We're the ones who do the hard work and our students see the problems and now they see the connection with the state legislature and the process."

Sen. Tim Lanane (D-Anderson) said the voice of the social worker is a powerful voice that needs to be heard.

Sen. Lanane introduced Senate Bill 139, a new bill that would effect how the courts handle cases where there are children in need of services. The bill hopes to ensure that children will receive services more quickly. Lanane credits social workers' voices for making a bill like this one possible.

"We need to listen to social workers," Lanane said. "What you do is important to what we do down here. We need to be listening to you, as legislators, when we decide if what we're doing is good for people or not, and so it's important for you to come here."

Lanane commented that the social workers' demonstration in front of the Statehouse attracted attention, and a group of their size has an impact on the decisions that are made.

"There is value in numbers down here," Lanane said, "and when a group like this comes here, people notice. All day, people have been asking me, who's down here? What's that group? What's on their minds? I can tell you what the group is and I'm going to go down there right now, and I'll tell you what is on their minds right now!"

What's on these ISU students' minds is creating a voice for their clients - a passion they say they learned by being a part of the ISU social work program.

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Photo: A publication-quality photo is available at: http://www.indstate.edu/news/photodatabase/downloads/3_1_06/NEWISUFlagStudents.jpg

Contact: Rhonda Impink, assistant professor, Department of Social Work, Indiana State University, (812) 237-3003 or r-impink@indstate.edu; Katie Spanuello, media relations assistant director, Indiana State University, (812) 237-3790 or kspanuello@isugw.indstate.edu

Writer: Rachel Wyly, ISU Communications & Marketing student intern, Indiana State University Media Relations

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Story Highlights

With their pickets in hand and signs on their backs, social work students from Indiana State University, along with more than 600 students from across Indiana, circled the Indiana Statehouse and demonstrated their concerns for issues such as poverty and rights for children.

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