Sharise Nance’s ‘S.W.A.G. Awards’ puts local social workers in the spotlight

S.W.A.G. AWARDS Class of 2023 Special Recognition Honorees

Third-annual event is March 25 at Hosanna House in Wilkinsburg

by Chardae Jones, For New Pittsburgh Courier

Sharise Nance didn’t always know that she wanted to be a social worker.

She just always knew that she wanted to help.

Initially, Nance, a Pittsburgh native, wanted to be a child psychologist. After being hands-on for quite some time, she realized that the problems were systemic, and decided that she needed to work on the system at-large. Nance entered social work in 2003 at the University of Pittsburgh and found it was so broad to keep herself on her toes and to challenge herself, she started a private practice as soon as she could.

“I didn’t know about social work when I was younger, I just knew I wanted to help people,” Nance told the New Pittsburgh Courier in an exclusive interview. “Fascinated about the human mind and behaviors.”

The hardest part of having her own practice is accepting that everything won’t be finished at the end of the day. She thrives at completed results. Learning to accept everything won’t be done at the end of the day. Finding balance is working in the business, working on the business and growing the business.

It takes a lot to wear a lot of hats, and Nance wears a lot of hats and isn’t afraid of a challenge. She is an adjunct professor, as if running her private practice, HandinHand Counseling Services, LLC, wasn’t enough. While working at UPMC in 2017 she started realizing that the best way to effect change was to get into that role and grab social workers’ attention early.

“There’s a huge problem with representation in the field,” Nance said.

She immediately wanted to drive that change and help people understand the needs of the population. Being a social worker and teaching social workers helped her see the needs of social workers and one of those needs was recognition.

While working at hospitals, she observed that social workers weren’t getting praised or awarded and realized that someone needed to step up, since it takes a lot of work and money to become a social worker.

“We’re in school for eight years. We earned our dues but we weren’t getting respect. We weren’t getting paid enough or any appreciation,” Nance told the Courier.

S.W.A.G. AWARDS Class of 2023 Honorees

That’s how the “S.W.A.G. Awards” became a thing. She needed to show social workers that their work was appreciated as they were and are still out in the trenches during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We need to do something for social work,” Nance recalled. “I reached out to local organizations to recognize them on social media. It started out as a small happy hour meet-and-greet and it grew legs. I talked with my husband and discussed an award ceremony to help decrease burnout. Social Worker Appreciation of Greatness (S.W.A.G.) was formed.”

Now that she has a private practice with full-time therapists, Nance said it motivates her to keep going as this is their bread and butter.

“A lot of my peers are looking up to me with inspiration,” Nance told the Courier. “People telling me that I’ve helped them change. More recently when COVID was at its height, my dad passed away and he was a supporter of my journey, and he made a lot of sacrifices as far as helping with school.

“The money’s gonna come,” Nance, a Westinghouse High School graduate, said. “I don’t want to do something driven by money. I want to be connected with what I do.”

Nance, who grew up in Homewood and East Liberty, graduated with a bachelor’s degree in psychology from Indiana University of Pennsylvania in 2002. She earned her Master of Social Work in 2006 from the University of Pittsburgh, and became a Licensed Clinical Social Worker in 2016. She was a Courier “Fab 40” honoree in 2019.

The S.W.A.G. Awards are very important to Nance because she wants people to remember how important social workers are to everyone. Any profession you can think of, there’s usually a social worker there. Social workers are, “essential workers.”

“One of my goals is to fight for social workers to get paid what they deserve,” Nance said. “It’s beyond us. We’re bound by insurance companies. It’s time to advocate at a higher level. We’re managing mental health.”

She’s working on building a consulting company to help social workers who want to start their own business, whether a private practice, speaking, facilitating or consulting.

This year’s S.W.A.G. Awards is the third of its kind, to be held, Saturday, March 25 at the Hosanna House in Wilkinsburg. This year’s awardees are: Aliya D. Durham, Ph.D., MSW, MPIA; Angela Campbell, MSW; Anette Nance, MSW; Kiera Mallett, LSW; Kimberly Washington, LCSW; Mikea Wall, LCSW; and Tierra L. Thorne, LSW. Tanya J. Ashby, LSW, will receive the Social Worker Lifetime Achievement Award, and Molly Burke Allwein, LSW, will receive the Social Work Changemaker Award.

The event will also feature the “Andre B. Hemby There for Me Social Work Supporter” distinction. Hemby was Nance’s father, who passed away due to complications of COVID in December 2020.

“‘There for Me’ recognizes the support and sacrifices of the parents, caregivers, mentors, coaches, or any other parental figures,” Nance said, “who played significant roles in the lives of our S.W.A.G awardees.”





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