Alma Fowlkes MSW ’65 retired from the Los Angeles County Department of Children and Family Services in 1993, but she has never stopped doing social work over the last 20 years.
A committed volunteer for the California Social Welfare Archives (CSWA) at the USC School of Social Work, Fowlkes was recently honored by the USC Alumni Association with the USC Widney Alumni House Award, which recognizes outstanding sustained volunteer service and contributions to the Trojan Family.
Currently in her second term as board treasurer for CSWA, Fowlkes has been volunteering for the archives, which collect and preserve documents and personal histories of significant contributors to social welfare housed at Doheny Memorial Library since the 1990s. Although supported by the School of Social Work, CSWA is run by a team of volunteers, and Fowlkes has been instrumental in all of her roles.
As chairwoman of the programming committee, she guided the organization in expanding its collection to include documents and histories from both Northern California and Southern California, making the archives truly a statewide collection.
Fowlkes was instrumental in establishing CSWA’s virtual Hall of Distinction, a collection of oral histories posted to YouTube for these personal stories to be accessible around the world. She has also served as assistant program director and director of silent auctions for CSWA.
“There’s an aspect of the USC School of Social Work that has been very special,” said Marilyn L. Flynn, dean of the School of Social Work. “It’s embodied in the way Alma has lived her life and particularly in the contributions she has made to our school. I’m talking about a sense of enlightened service, which means that you’re not too proud to do any job.
“She has tremendous energy, a willingness to do anything to make it work and a sense of encouragement to everybody who’s been around her,” Flynn added. “It takes a special kind of spirit like Alma’s to go out and interest people, to make people care about what others have accomplished before us and the value of preserving that.”
Beyond her involvement with CSWA, Fowlkes has served as a field instructor for USC Master of Social Work students. She also lends her time to some of the most vulnerable members of Los Angeles, including the populations served by the Ladera Heights Civic Association, St. Jerome Church, Veterans Administration hospitals and the Alpha Kappa Alpha sorority.
Fowlkes co-founded the Yvonne B. Burke Senior and Community Center in 2008 as a nonprofit community center serving disadvantaged populations in South Los Angeles. She was appointed by the president of the California Department of Veterans Affairs to represent disabled veterans for California’s 16th congressional district, a position she has held since 2003. She was also the first minority to be president of the state’s Disabled American Veterans Auxiliary.
Learning about the core principles of social work and collaboration at an early age from her mother’s support of at-risk youth in their community, Fowlkes’ passion for the field comes from her belief in social change and a spirit of humility and respect.
“We need to nurture ideas and inspire people to become initiators of change,” she said. “The ownership of an idea will help a person to develop and grow.”
But beyond her vision, generosity and commitment to others, Fowlkes’ greatest strength is her ability to connect with and inspire people.
“I love books and our role in preserving important stories,” she said, “but I truly enjoy working with people.”