Social workers honor volunteers, employees

Social workers honor volunteers, employees

March 29th, 2014 by Yolanda Putman in Local Regional News

Gloria Griffith works with children to plant flowers and vegetables at Renaissance Presbyterian Church on Friday. She was named Public Citizen of the Year by the Tennessee chapter of the National Association of Social Workers.

Photo by Erin O. Smith /Times Free Press.

Gloria Griffith thought no one noticed her quietly preparing food baskets for homeless people living in hotels, giving socks to seniors at Christmastime or gathering after-school snacks for children.

She thought no one noticed when she taught youths how to read.

Someone did notice.

"Her story is a great example of someone who has lived a life of service," said Dr. Valerie Radu, a National Association of Social Workers member who attended the 2014 Social Work Day on the Hill in Nashville when Griffith, a 66-year-old grandmother, was named Public Citizen of the Year by the Tennessee chapter of National Association of Social Workers.

Two other Chattanoogans received statewide recognition at the event. James McKissic, the city's director of the Office of Multicultural Affairs, was named Public Official of the Year, and Mari Alyce Benson, clinical director of the Chattanooga Autism Center, earned the Social Worker of the Year honor. The three are among the state-level winners who will be considered for recognition at the national social workers conference in Washington, D.C., in May.

The event this month, Social Work Day on the Hill, drew more than 500 legislators, social workers and community activists. It was the culmination of a month of events recognizing March as Social Work Month and promoting the theme, "All people matter."

While most award winners get one or two nominations, Benson generated nearly a dozen nominating letters from children, parents and co-workers from the Chattanooga Autism Center. She and volunteers at the Chattanooga Autism Center answer about 200 calls a month from parents of children with autism or other disabilities who are looking for help.

"A lot of parents feel alone, so when they find us on the Internet, I can connect them with resources, and I enjoy that," Benson said.

Griffith also was recognized for her compassion and desire to help others. Her mother's example instilled in her a need to give, she said.

Mary Ella Thomas raised 10 children and taught them that they always had room to take in another one. Griffith said she watched her mother work at least two jobs and still find time to be secretary of the PTA and participate in the March of Dimes.

"She just motivated me to want to give back," Griffith said of her mother.

Contact staff writer Yolanda Putman at 423-602-0574 or