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Youth Advocate and Politician Honored

Dean Marilyn Flynn and Board of Councilor member Dick Thor present professor Wendy Smith with the George D. Nickel Award for Outstanding Professional Services.

Photo/Brian Goodman

USC social work professor Wendy Smith and Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Los Angeles) have been honored by the California Social Welfare Archives (CSWA) for their commitment to the advancement of social welfare.

The George D. Nickel Award for Outstanding Professional Services was presented to Smith, a clinical associate professor in the USC School of Social Work.

Smith, who maintains a private practice in psychotherapy with individuals and couples, is an expert in the areas of transitional youth and the theory and practice of psychodynamic social work.

She chairs the Families and Children concentration and teaches courses in first-year practice, advanced practice and theory, and works with transitional youth for the Mental Health Initiative program.

“I am both honored and humbled by this award,” she said. “I’m always proud to say I’m a social worker and a part of the profession whose mission it is to advocate for people who are often at the margins of society � people who are disenfranchised politically, economically and socially.

“Among these,” she added, “are foster children who often have a tenuous foothold in the social network and are facing an uncertain adulthood.”

For the past five years, Smith has worked to create and implement a transitional housing program for emancipated foster youth in Los Angeles County, which unlike other programs promotes as its cornerstone a relationship with a caring adult.

“This award surely belongs more to my fellow workers in this area and to foster youths themselves than it does to me,” she said.

Waxman, who for more than three decades has been a vocal advocate for major health and welfare issues such as universal health insurance, Medicare and Medicaid coverage, nursing home quality standards, women’s health research and the availability of prescription drugs, received the George D. Nickel Award for Outstanding Volunteer Service.

The award is given annually in memory of CSWA’s founder to recognize individuals who have made notable strides toward improving social welfare.

USC President Steven B. Sample introduced Waxman, who represents California’s 30th district in the U.S. House of Representatives. In his keynote address, Waxman spoke about the misguided priorities of the elected leaders in Washington to protect private wealth over the need to provide for the least advantaged.

“Those in power are more interested in reducing the public role in assuring income security and adequate health care than in being sure that people have the help they need,” he said. “The combined power of the people is not harnessed to meet basic needs.”

The congressman said the values advocated by former President Franklin D. Roosevelt should be part of a second bill of rights for every American, including the right to a job, decent wages, adequate medical care, a good education and protection from the economic fears of old age.

“They should be enduring values of our society, not just the rights of the wealthy and advantaged,” he said.

Waxman believes shortsighted cuts have led to a stagnant minimum wage that is equivalent to 1968 in real terms, the rising cost of attending a public college and 47 million people without health insurance.

“Somewhere along the way, too many have forgotten social welfare is critical to all of us,” he said. “Every child we don’t educate, every person we can’t reach and every troubled person we don’t help who goes without the care they need � we are all poorer because of the failures.”

Waxman closed with a final call to action: “We have to believe the principles of social welfare and social justice are so ingrained in the American ideal that they’re going to come back stronger than ever before as a basis for our public policy, but we’re going to have to work to make that happen.”

The event was co-sponsored by the USC School of Policy, Planning, and Development, the USC Casden Institute for the Study of the Jewish Role in American Life, USC Libraries, the Jesse M. Unruh Institute of Politics and the USC College department of political science.

Youth Advocate and Politician Honored

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