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Association of Social Workers to Honor Santa Barbara’s Arthur Nelson, Ken Williams

Nelson will receive the Lifetime Achievement Award, and Williams will be named Public Citizen of the Year

Santa Barbara residents Arthur Nelson and Ken Williams will be honored Saturday at the National Association of Social Workers-California Chapter’s Annual Conference and Job Fair in Los Angeles.

Nelson will be honored with the Lifetime Achievement Award, and Williams will be named Public Citizen of the Year. Both were selected from candidates throughout California.

Born in California in the late 1920s, Nelson attended grade school and high school in Santa Maria. He earned a bachelor’s degree in social science from Westmont College. Immediately after graduation, military draft orders arrived for Nelson to report for basic training at Fort Ord. He served two years of occupation duty in Germany with the 28th Infantry Division.

Nelson began his career in social work as a social worker trainee in the Santa Barbara County Welfare Department. In 1957, he graduated with a master’s degree in social welfare, and received charter membership in the newly formed National Association of Social Workers.

Employment followed as a child welfare worker in the Adoptions Unit of the Santa Barbara County Welfare Department with subsequent promotions to child welfare supervisor, staff training officer and then, for 15 years, as director of the department. The position of director also allowed for participation on the boards of directors of the Salvation Army, United Way and the American Red Cross.

He held leadership positions in the NASW’s Channel Chapter, the Santa Barbara Council of Social Services and the California County Welfare Directors Association.

The retirement years were made meaningful with an appointment by the California Governor’s Office to the state Social Welfare Advisory Committee. A number of special projects were studied, including the use of magnetic-strip cards in the financial assistance programs and establishing funding priorities. The subsequent publications of the committee were utilized by the state Department of Social Services and the California Legislature.

The Lifetime Achievement Award is a high honor celebrating Nelson’s chosen career in social work and the many ways he helped improve social services to the residents of Santa Barbara County.

Williams has touched the lives of the homeless in Santa Barbara for the past 30 years in his work with the Department of Social Services as an outreach social worker. In the past year, there have been an unprecedented number of deaths of the homeless in Santa Barbara — most of them attributed to the ravages of unemployment, addiction, exhaustion and mental disorders; a few were unsolved suspected murders resulting from beatings.

Williams has fought to keep the issue in the public eye through letters to local newspapers and advocacy at Santa Barbara City Council meetings. He has also organized vigils to memorialize the dead, and has written numerous columns for publication in Noozhawk. By December 2009, there had been 28 deaths of homeless people in Santa Barbara.

A documentary titled Shelter chronicles the daily outreach of Williams as he talks with people on the street, checking on their health needs and generally looking out for them. The film was released in 2009.

Williams is the conscience of Santa Barbara and keeps us all aware of the issues that plague the homeless on a daily basis. It is his voice that cries out when services are slashed and when the public turns their backs on people who are not able to advocate for themselves. He is a voice of common sense and true compassion.

— Gabriela Dodson represents the National Association of Social Workers-California Chapter.

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