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Giving Back: Meet Social Work Champion Dr. Renata Hedrington-Jones

This social work leader empowers and inspires MSW students.

Renata Hedrington-Jones PhDDr. Renata Hedrington-Jones has experienced the sweep of social work career opportunities the profession has to offer—and in the process, has dedicated her time, talent, and vision to strengthening social work practice and communities.

A faculty member in the Master of Social Work (MSW) online degree program in Walden University’s Barbara Solomon School of Social Work, Dr. Hedrington-Jones has provided direct social work services. She’s worked in schools and within the correctional system. She’s helped facilitate adoptions and support mental health needs. She’s lobbied state and national officials on behalf of the profession and its clients.

And yet, if you ask her to introduce herself, she may tell you first that she is “Ellen Norman’s baby girl.”

“My mother made sure that I did what I did, and never accepted the minimum and always requesting and making me get to the maximum. And so, there's nothing else for me to do, but give some of what my mother gave to me to other people,” she says.

And that’s what she’s done in her social work career of more than 40 years and counting. Whether she’s working with students in Walden’s online social work degree program, facilitating a women’s group within her church, speaking at a Martin Luther King Jr. Day symposium, or lobbying on Capitol Hill, her focus is on education, empowerment, and advocacy, the latter of which she says is a career opportunity many MSW candidates overlook. And which may be a perfect fit.

In courses like Social Policy: Analysis and Advocacy, Dr. Hedrington-Jones helps students explore how social workers are essential in advocacy, developing policy, and in the legislative process. And she brings deep expertise to the topic, having served as a lobbyist for the School Social Work Association of America for 20 years. She is the newly elected vice president of the National Association of Black Social Workers and has long-standing ties to the Congressional Research Institute for Social Work and Policy (CRISP).

“You have some people in social work who hear the helping part, but sometimes they don't have the personality part to do the direct. But they have the ability to advocate. They have an ability to stand. They have an ability to have quick responses to those questions. And so that makes it all the more better. And I say that, all the more better, because that becomes a part of their heart. And so, when they’re speaking, those politicians hear them,” she says.

Walden’s MSW students get a taste of how social workers champion legislation at events like CRISP’s annual Student Advocacy Day, being held virtually in 2021. Next year, Dr. Hedrington-Jones hopes to see a large contingent of Walden school of social work students converge on Washington, D.C., to meet elected officials to discuss critical issues of the day. She notes that there are social work advocates in elected roles too. Several members of Congress hold MSW degrees, including Rep. Karen Bass (D-CA), Rep. Sylvia Garcia (D-TX), and Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-MI).

“I've always made certain that my students have field placements in the government because with social work, you are really at all levels of practice, macro and micro, and … I have two students who work on Capitol Hill as liaisons. I have several who work in Virginia at the General Assembly as liaisons. And they started out as student interns,” she says. “Everyone can be an advocate with the proper training.”

Changing Lives Through Social Work Careers

Wherever MSW degree students want to take their careers, Dr. Hedrington-Jones has insight and experience to share. Her practice has shown her, without a doubt, that “social workers are the true social change agents and can empower people.” Walden, with its social change mission, takes exactly the right approach, she says.

“Helping is not enough. Because I can help you—give you a glass of water, but I need to teach you how you can make sure that water is accessible to you all the time. And that you don't have to depend on anybody else for that,” she says. “So as a social worker, I empower all those people that I work with. And my work is evidence-based.”

In direct practice, Dr. Hedrington-Jones has worked within the correctional system, empowering young adults to become productive citizens. She’s helped clients build skills that enabled them to move from public housing into homeownership. One former client, who worked through some of life’s most difficult challenges with Dr. Hedrington-Jones, is now a longtime supervisor within a national retail chain. After 20 years, she still checks in with Dr. Hedrington-Jones to share important milestones.

“She called me a couple of weeks ago. She said, ‘Three more years.’ And I'm like, three more years? What? She said, ‘In three more years, my house will be paid for.’ And you know, I want to hear that.”

Dr. Hedrington-Jones believes in possibilities, building and healing communities, and shattering stereotypes. In telling her own story, she says, “I defied every stigma that’s placed upon a little black girl in a single-parent home that is known to man. I was never hungry. I never lived in public housing. I never was illiterate. I never was, I never was. Because my mother would not allow it.”

Now, “Ellen Norman’s baby girl” says she is “passing the torch” to the next generation social workers who will empower clients to build stronger lives and communities. She believes the need for all types of social workers will be great, with the COVID-19 pandemic creating many new challenges. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) supports her view. Through 2029, the BLS expects employment will grow by 13%, much faster than average.1

“Social work is a profession to be reckoned with. And we do have a lot of power and we do have a voice. And when you let students know that, there's no stopping them. And I believe that Walden's diversity offers them that opportunity,” she says.

Find Your Social Work Career Passion

When you’re ready to become a social worker, or expand your social work practice, Walden University offers several online social work degree programs. Prepare for your social work career by earning a Bachelor of Social Work (BSW) in Walden’s Council on Social Work Education (CSWE)–accredited online degree program.

Walden’s CSWE-accredited Master of Social Work (MSW) degree program offers several focus areas so you can tailor your coursework to your professional interests. You can also take your education to the academic pinnacle by earning a Doctor of Social Work or PhD in Social Work.

At Walden, no matter which online social work degree program you choose, you’ll have the flexibility to earn a degree while staying fully engaged at work and at home. Walden can help you take your social work practice to new heights, or in new directions.

Walden University is an accredited institution offering online social work degree programs, including a Master of Social Work (MSW). Expand your career options and earn your degree in a convenient online format that fits your busy life.

1Source: www.bls.gov/ooh/community-and-social-service/social-workers.htm

Walden University's Bachelor of Social Work (BSW) and Master of Social Work (MSW) programs are accredited by the Council on Social Work Education (CSWE), a specialized accrediting body recognized by the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA). CSWE’s Commission on Accreditation is responsible for developing standards that define competent preparation for professional social workers and ensuring that social work programs meet these standards.

Walden University is accredited by The Higher Learning Commission, www.hlcommission.org.

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