Each year, the UNC School of Social Work presents the Distinguished Alumni Award as a way of honoring those who embody social work values and carry our mission of service into the field.
During the School’s commencement ceremony in May, Bobby Boyd, Ella Craig, Michelle Hughes and Constance Renz were honored with awards.
Bobby Boyd, MSW ’69, is from Conover, N.C. He retired in Oct. 2008 from a 30-year career as director of Catawba County Social Service, where he led the 400 staff to outstanding achievement and a strong reputation as an efficient and responsive community agency. Boyd’s focus on “people, principles, performance and prevention” impacted not only the county, but also the region and the state. Under his watch, the agency developed model programs, including five residential group homes for at-risk children, school social work and teen pregnancy prevention programs, an adoption agency, a children’s advocacy center, a shelter program for adult victims of neglect or abuse, a family resource center in subsidized apartments, and numerous partnerships to promote economic self-sufficiency across the county.
Boyd helped forge the first child protective service standards in the state, the first job link center in Catawba County, and the successful implementation of budget-based outcomes. In 2004, in response to the state’s mental health reform, Boyd led the agency to develop Family NET, a therapeutic arm which provides individual and family mental health services, as well as prevention programming, across the county.
Boyd has promoted professional social work education for four decades. He encouraged workers to join the National Organization of Social Workers (NASW) and participate in state and national legislative advocacy. He helped instituted agency support for social workers to attain their MSW and clinical social work licensure. He serves on the UNC School of Social Work’s Board of Advisors, and was also an adjunct professor.
Boyd’s nominators describe him as “dedicated, incisive and committed to excellence. His legacy is a prototype for professional social workers and a credit to the UNC School of Social Work.” At his retirement, the agency staff and board established the Bobby Kenneth Boyd Endowment Fund at the UNC School of Social Work to promote leadership in public social work programs.
Ella Hobbs Craig, MSW ’50, was born and raised in Gatesville, N.C. and resides in Anchorage, Alaska. Her parents placed a high value on education, which led Craig to pursue a social work degree. That effort was interrupted during World War II. Wanting to do her part, Craig accepted a position as a social worker with the Red Cross, working in military hospitals in Florida dealing with any problems the servicemen had that impacted their military service. She was eventually shipped out to the Philippines. After the war, she was posted with the occupation forces in Japan. As a southerner, Craig found it interesting that in military hospitals and other installations, segregation was giving way to integration. When she returned to the States, she was less tolerant of the discrimination she saw around her.
When Craig returned to school, the program had shifted from a public welfare orientation to a functional approach. That grounding served her well when she became a Red Cross disaster representative, traveling all over the country in the wake of hurricanes, fires, tornadoes and floods.
Craig was asked by the Bureau of Indian Affairs to set up an office in Kodiak, Alaska. The first crisis to deal with was a tuberculosis epidemic. Whole families were sometimes eliminated, but one of the most difficult was when the parents died leaving child survivors too young to fend for themselves. Craig’s group went from island to island by mail boat or floatplane — and even dogsled — picking up kids for placement in foster homes.
During the past 50 years in Alaska, she has the satisfaction of knowing that she trained many social workers. One young man became director of social services for the Bureau of Indian Affairs in Washington. She also enjoys seeing her “kids” from the TB epidemic who are now functioning, productive citizens — one of which became a state senator.
Michelle Hughes, MSW ‘95, of Durham, is the vice president for program services at Prevent Child Abuse North Carolina. Hughes oversees the agency’s professional education program, evidence-based program team, community capacity-building services and policy/systems advocacy efforts. She is a leader in the area of child welfare and foster care in the state, helping to organize both the North Carolina Foster Parent Association and Strong Able Youth Speaking Out (SAYSO), an advocacy group of children in foster care who are working to improve the child welfare system for young people.
Hughes has made a commitment to share the latest research on child development and child welfare practices with practitioners across North Carolina through her training and writing, while advocating for programs in the state legislature. She has authored numerous articles and monographs on issues related to child well-being. One of her most recent publications was in the North Carolina Medical Journal.
Through her tireless efforts, Hughes is improving the lives of children and their families by reaching out to children, families, social workers, and other child-focused professionals through her organizing, training and advocacy efforts.
She is an active leader in community organizations, serving on the boards of the Burch Neighborhood Association, Democracy North Carolina and the Common Sense Foundation. Her commitment to social change extends into all aspects of her local community and the state.
Constance Renz, MSW ’74, of Durham, is a licensed clinical social worker and research instructor with the UNC Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology. Since 1993, she has been the director of the UNC Horizons Program, which provides comprehensive outpatient and residential services to substance-addicted pregnant women and mothers and their children. The program teaches women with addictions the skills to rebuild their lives.
Renz’s work broke barriers for battered women, a type of crime that formerly went unreported or unacknowledged. She led the Durham group comprised of social service and legal aid workers, activists and victims. This group merged with a group from Chapel Hill and formed the Orange-Durham Coalition for Battered Women, and received a grant to fund a crisis telephone line, which later evolved into Helpline. Renz served as the director for this coalition.
During her 30-year career, she has also served as the director of the Welcome Baby program in Durham, as a child sexual abuse evaluator on the Duke Children Protection Team, and as a child protective services social worker. Renz also developed and taught the family violence course at the UNC School of Social Work for over 15 years.
By Kristen Huffman