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Fordham GSS Alumni Block Party Highlights Social Work’s Impact


There’s no better way to kick off the summer than to connect with friends and colleagues. On Friday, June 7, members of the GSS community did exactly that, gathering in the Bateman room at Fordham’s Law School for a GSS Reunion at the 2024 Fordham Alumni Block Party!

Block Party festivities began at 4 p.m. with guided tours around Fordham’s Lincoln Center campus in the heart of NYC’s Upper West Side. A musical performance followed from 5 – 6 p.m. in the Law School’s Soden Lounge, where attendees were treated to a complimentary glass of champagne and a live jazz band comprised of Fordham students and faculty from a medley of academic disciplines:

  • Keegan Riley – Trumpet (faculty)
  • Peter Wu – Flute – ‘24, Computer Science
  • William Harvey – Saxophone, ‘24 Political Science
  • Pavel Vasilyev – Piano, ‘25 Computer Science
  • Kevin Farrell – Bass (faculty)
  • Aaron Dorelien – Drums, ‘24 Theatre

Then, from 6 – 7:30 p.m., GSS alumni, faculty, staff, family, and friends met to celebrate another successful school year and our alumni’s career accomplishments. 

This year’s reunion theme was “Celebrating Social Work,” an opportunity for everyone to salute the profession that has given us so much. The festivities spotlighted the versatility of the Master of Social Work (M.S.W.) degree and the breadth of opportunities afforded to professionals throughout their careers.

Honoring the GSS Community

GSS continued our tradition of honoring two select community members for their contributions to the school and their communities. 

GSS Reunion emcee and Fordham GSS Associate Director for Academic Affairs Linda White-Ryan, Ph.D., granted our annual Block Party awards to two GSS alumni for their exceptional dedication to GSS and social work. 

The first award, The GSS Community Partner Award, honors an individual who embodies professional social work values and meaningfully impacts the individuals and communities they serve. Recipients are committed advocates for those most vulnerable among us and catalysts for systemic and organizational change. Finally, awardees have earned a reputation for promoting human rights, social justice, and anti-racism – personifying what it means to be a social worker today.

Recipient: Michala Williams, GSS ’19

Next, White-Ryan announced the GSS Alumni Service Award, which honors an individual who is dedicated in their support of the Graduate School of Social Service and its mission. Through their actions and unwavering professionalism, recipients of this award serve as a steller and consistent role model for all GSS students. Awardees play a vital role in the education of GSS students helping to prepare the next generation of knowledgeable, skilled, and compassionate social work professionals and leaders.

Recipient: Roger Ball, GSS ’02

Social Work’s Impact on Education and Communities

Our two award recipients showcase that social workers are staples in the education system and in the broader community surrounding that system. After receiving their awards, each spoke about their career trajectory and how Fordham set them on a path to success.

Williams currently serves as a clinician on the behavioral health crisis support team at Johns Hopkins University. Her team of eight clinicians collaborates with specially trained public safety officers to support individuals in crisis on or immediately surrounding the university’s Baltimore campuses.

“We [Johns Hopkins] are the first university in the United States to launch a campus-based 24/7/365 mobile crisis co-response team,” Williams said. 

Williams, originally an undergraduate student with a music-focused major, entered social work after her music teacher’s partner introduced her to the profession. Now, she responds to calls within the university’s Peabody Music Conservatory and uses her background to relate to students. At an academically rigorous school like JHU, students sometimes don’t even know these mental health resources are available to them, Williams added. 

“Many don’t realize they can talk to someone,” she said. “They push right through and get to their breaking point.”  

That’s why teams like hers are vital to the campus community and student body health. Which is amazing, Williams said, because jobs like hers “didn’t even exist” when she came into Fordham’s M.S.W. program seven years ago. This shows how rapidly the profession adapts to societal needs, and how its breadth and depth continue to grow as time marches on.

Williams concluded with a word to her fellow social workers in the room about the importance of self-care. Since this work is so pivotal, the professionals delivering the services must take care of themselves, too. 

“I’m tired of seeing the burnout from the burdens of the system,” she said. “And I’m tired of hearing you can’t pour from an empty cup. Rest is rebellion.”

How Far We’ve Come

Ball stepped to the podium and reflected on his beginnings as a young boy growing up in Jamaica’s countryside—where he and his family “kept the candles burning at night for light”—and how his upbringing influenced his success. As a social worker supervisor for the NYC Public Schools system and adjunct professor at GSS for over 15 years, Ball’s career has stretched to immense heights—but he is still that same kid inside. And as he looked out into the crowd, Ball spoke directly to his mother—in attendance that night—who inspired a lifetime of altruism in her son. 

“No matter how little we had, she never turned anyone away,” Ball said. “Those young men [she helped]have migrated all over the world, but still look to her…to thank her for that piece of chicken, the rice, the ackee and saltfish.”

Ball explained that it has become his life’s work to carry on the lessons she taught. One of the ways has been establishing ten food pantries within his community.

“The story is the same,” Ball said, “whether that be the countryside of Jamaica, or the Boogeytown Bronx. Hunger knows no bounds.”

Ball, also the keynote speaker at this year’s GSS Graduate Diploma Ceremony, said the Fordham GSS Community is a “force to be reckoned with.” He said GSS’s reach is expansive, having alumni in corporate America, education, hospitals, and many other sectors across the country. The Fordham education, he said, has uniquely allowed them to empower others no matter what the circumstances.

“Fordham has given me the eyes to see human suffering and not to be blinded by injustice,” Ball said. “And the ears…to listen to the songs of hope of those who are underserved. Songs that say, ‘We are overcomers.’” 

Presidential Presence

The night concluded with words from Fordham President Tania Tetlow. Although a lawyer by trade, Tetlow has worked closely with social workers in the past. She previously led the Domestic Violence Clinic at Tulane Law School, which also had a JD/MSW joint program (so does Fordham, by the way). 

Tetlow commented on how GSS alumni truly “live the mission” of the Jesuit tenets through their careers supporting the New York City community and beyond. She thanked everyone in the room for “coming back home” and all they continue to do to help make the Fordham community so incredible. 

Thank you to everyone who came out to celebrate and all who continue supporting the school in so many different ways! Below, please enjoy some photos from the 2024 GSS Block Party!


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