Practicing with Purpose
Dr. Renata Hedrington Jones
Social work is often described as challenging and frustrating, but it's also rewarding to see the difference social workers make in people's lives and communities.
Dr. Renata Hedrington Jones, a 40-year social work veteran, believes she was destined to work in this field, despite originally going to college to major in art. As a freshman at Virginia Intermont College, she was required to do a community service project and chose to work with the juvenile court in Bristol, Tennessee.
“Bristol was an interesting town that straddled Tennessee and Virginia, and I would come across kids that committed a crime in one state and run to the other so they wouldn’t get penalized,” recalls Dr. Hedrington Jones.
During her sophomore year, she volunteered to help abused children. As a junior, she officially changed her major to social work, returned to the juvenile justice system, and never looked back.
Dr. Hedrington Jones spent the next 14 years after college graduation working for the Virginia Department of Corrections. After two years working as an adoption social worker, she became a lobbyist for the Virginia Association of School Social Workers, where she served for nearly three decades.
“I figure the reason I’m doing this is so I can make a difference in someone else’s life,” says Dr. Hedrington Jones, a Walden University faculty member in the Barbara Solomon School of Social Work and Human Services and a PhD in Human Services graduate. “Social work is meant to improve communities, and, as long as I’m focused on making life better for others, I’m happy. If I’m doing it right, I don’t get tired or frustrated.”
When asked what she does for a living, she often says she goes into neighborhoods and works with people. However, her heart’s passion is policy. Dr. Hedrington Jones inspires her students to think beyond their textbooks to consider every scenario and apply the policy they think they know. When necessary, she politely lets them know when they’re wrong. She has them go through these steps because she believes it’s important they have a realistic point of view since they are working with real people.
“I don’t think social workers truly know how powerful they can be if they don’t understand how policy comes about because it’s essential to how we serve people. Every situation is governed by policy. They must know why we do what we do from the policy that governs it.”
When she’s not teaching, Dr. Hedrington Jones conducts workshops for women about emotional health and relationships in churches and community centers throughout Richmond, Virginia. She helps women learn to like and, eventually, love themselves by unpacking the luggage that’s full of myths passed down from mothers and grandmothers. The idea: Women start to make drastic changes in their lives because they feel better about themselves. The result: Great things happen because families are kept together.
Dr. Hedrington Jones’ dedication to her community has not gone unnoticed. The National Association of Black Social Workers (NABSW) recognized Dr. Hedrington Jones in April with the NIA Lifetime Achievement Award for her 32 years of service to the organization, as well as her contributions to the community where she lives and works.
“I haven’t done anything more than what has been asked or expected of me as a social worker,” she says humbly. “I know I’m not going to live forever, but it’s important for my students to know what I’ve done and learn to do something bigger than themselves to make a difference.”
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