Doris Wood

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National Association of Social Workers
Social Work Month 2014

2014 BSW Student of the Year, Middle Branch: Doris Wood

First memories and prize possessions reveal things of great importance about people. Doris Wood remembers being 3 years old, sitting on the porch with her sister waiting for representatives of the Child Haven orphanage in Cullman, Alabama to come for them. The daughter of a nurse with serious addiction issues in the late 1950's, Doris learned early to live with little and look for much. At age three, she became the youngest child ever to enter Child Haven, where she would spend her life until reaching college age. Because of being the youngest child in the orphanage, Doris remembers receiving a lot of attention. Among those who gave that attention was her first house parent, "Mama Ora," who prior to passing away presented Doris with the dress she'd worn the day she first came. It is a prize possession, reminding her of a day full of uncertainty and sadness and a lifetime of hope. Also among Doris' prize possessions is a file of newsletters which chronicle the years during which she lived at Child Haven. Stories of survival skills learned in farming, simple joys of play, and pleas for congregational help to save the children fill the pages of these publications. Also woven into the newsletters' content is the unfolding of the movement to utilize social workers to serve the children who, once at Child Haven, would likely never leave. Doris describes the legacy of these social workers in her description of them as genuinely caring for her, as making her feel she was the only child in the world when they were with her, as people who taught her she mattered and had talent.

Consistent with practice at the time of her high school graduation, Doris was provided a college education at Lipscomb. Once in Nashville, she earned the Bachelor of Art degree and focused on her love for drawing. Unable to make a living in art, Doris entered the military. In her capacity as soldier, Doris turned her attention to stirring morale among comrades, earned positions which helped her prepare deploying soldiers for cultural and personal adjustment, and ultimately deployed to the Middle East. Among Doris' service was outreach to women and children whose homes were destroyed in Afghanistan. A large and permanent piece of Doris' art, an honor/memorial stands in Afghanistan, in recognition of the efforts of the Tennessee soldiers who served there.

Years of hardship and overcoming contributed to Doris' commitment to help others, to empowering others in pursuit of their own goals. Sorrow carved deeply a vessel of joy, which she willingly shares with fellow-soldiers, the victims of war, and now fellow-classmates across the lifespan. Upon return from deployment, Doris made the decision to pursue education in social work. Passionate about wanting to make the world better and particularly passionate about serving veterans and the aging, Doris evaluated educational options. Although she had earned a Bachelors degree in early years and was eligible to pursue an MSSW, Doris determined that being a social worker was too important to attempt "the shortest route possible," and opted to enter Lipscomb's BSW program.

Since being at Lipscomb, Doris has distinguished herself in the classroom, on the campus and off. Doris' efforts and reputation among veteran students was honored campus-wide by the university on Veteran's Day, 2013. She exemplifies a commitment to service and social justice and stands above the crowd despite a short stature. Doris seeks to honor those with whom she works and represents the highest level of passion and integrity.

Within the BSW program, Doris became the person in the classroom that consistently encouraged and spurred on classmates. Skillful use of humor, second-mile efforts in group work, and the willingness to attempt challenging tasks resulted in traditional students to comment they "can't imagine having to take this course without her." Doris employed all she was learning to empower uncertain students, to re-direct students whose behaviors were less than productive, and to nurture hope at all times.

Doris' social work values reflect themselves in words and deeds, and her desire to make use of a unique upbringing undergirds her courage. Although most undergraduate students do not love research, Doris has come to understand specifically the value of qualitative research. Currently, Doris is working with the program director to analyze content from the Child Haven newsletters, to examine the unfolding of social work's presence in the Christian child care arena -- to understand hesitancy as well as recognize forces contributing to the positive efforts to open doors to provide more holistic care for children. It is anticipated that this joint effort will ultimately result in a published work.

Within the military, Doris has also distinguished herself as a provider of guidance and assistance, as she helps soldiers prepare for and adjust following deployment. Still known for her artistic ability, Doris has been commissioned to paint a mural for permanent placement on the base in Smyrna; specifically, she is focusing on something to refresh and inspire soldiers there. Also rising from this distinction is Doris' upcoming work with veteran's served by Sumner County's only senior service center. Provided the opportunity, Ms. Doris zealously embraced the plan to support veterans in sharing their stories.

In a pool of worthy candidates, Doris E. Wood exemplifies -- the victory of overcoming, the legacy of hope she insisted on believing and then passing on, and the zealous determination to embody the strengths perspective, personally and professionally, in order to help others do the same. Certainly the powerful story of a three year old who might've lost hope, had it not been for the diligence of committed social workers, is an amazing one. Had the story ended at three years old, we might all conclude Doris Wood was a sweet little girl with talent for art and music who learned to laugh through pain. But, the story didn't end there. Had Doris' amazing artistic ability been recognized upon completion of an art degree, perhaps she'd been known for capturing the spirit and heart of all she drew, which is (indeed) the case. It would certainly "be enough" had she simply survived to draw another day. What is incredibly remarkable is that Doris did more than survive. She insisted on pursuing life to the fullest, serving country and the world. She gave (and continues to give) of self, to honor the women who, as social workers, had taught her to love herself when life circumstances might suggest others didn't. She gave (and continues to give) of self to provide hope against all hope, as was provided for her. Doris' efforts to reach across culture and war to touch frightened Afghani women and children promoted healing among them. Doris' free gift of artistic talent to honor the state of Tennessee and its soldiers on Afghan soil stands as a permanent testament to her, to the state, and to the country's military. Doris' gift of spirit to help younger soldiers anticipate deployment and know there is hope beyond its challenges continues to plant seeds and nurture lives which will impact the world for generations to come. Doris' efforts to share her life, her zeal, and her academic commitment, to go the long way around and make sure she learned all she could prior to pursuing the MSW, so she could be the best possible social worker, exhibit commitment parallel to that of social work's earliest advocates. Doris' presence on the campus and in the community, speaking with pride and commitment of social work and its values, give meaning to survival and to living. Doris Wood, the observant artist who so capably captures the soul of those she draws, was not content to see and depict the world. She was (and is) compelled to change extended herself in ways that nurture, affirm, and empower -- to make a difference that is deeply rooted in her love for the vulnerable and for the field.

The NASW-TN Middle Branch recognized Doris Wood of Lipscomb University and Matthew Thompson of Belmont University as co-BSW Students of the Year at the Social Work Month Celebration on March 19, 2014! Congratulations!