NASW Foundation National Programs
NASW Social Work Pioneers®
Rafael Aguirre (1937 - )
For more than 40 years Rafael Aguirre has been mentor, advocate, role-model and instigator for the inclusion into the profession of minority individuals, particularly in the Hispanic community. When Aguirre arrived in El Paso, Texas, there were only three other bilingual bicultural social workers for a largely Hispanic and Spanish speaking population. He has tirelessly promoted the social work profession and service to underprivileged and underserved clients in the community, encouraging Mexican American young people to study and remain in El Paso. With respect to social work education, he spearheaded faculty recruiting effort to attract and retain minority candidates, and served on the Texas Graduate Schools of Social Work Advisory Board on Minority Curriculum, Faculty and Students. He helped the University of Texas at El Paso obtain CSWE accreditation, which enabled students to graduate with a BSW and pursue graduate studies if they chose. An innovative administrator, sensitive above all to client needs, he helped design and implement the residential mental health program for the El Paso State Center in the 1970s, when the closest in-patient psychiatric program was 360 miles away, thereby providing patients the opportunity to be treated close to home and family.
Aguirre began his career in 1960 as a child protection worker in Brownsville, Texas. He then served Native American populations on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation from 1963-69. In the 1970s he was the director of mental health services for the El Paso State Center. Aguirre was appointed Executive Director of Family Service of El Paso in 1979, serving in that capacity until 1996. From that date until 2005 he served as Faculty Associate in the Department of Psychiatry, Texas Tech School of Medicine, training residents in the field of marriage and family therapy.
Although intending to retire in 2005, Rafael Aguirre established what is now a full-time private clinical practice, including consultation to a number of organizations.
Rafael Aguirre was born in 1937 in El Paso, Texas where he continues to make his home. He received his MSW from Our Lady of the Lake University in 1967 and his BA in psychology from Texas Western College (now University of Texas El Paso) in 1960.
He has participated on numerous boards and committees, including the Ruben Salazar Memorial Foundation, the Children’s Justice Center of El Paso, El Paso Ad Hoc Committee on Mental Health and Mental Retardation, El Paso Center of Children, La Familia Program for the mentally Ill, and the El Paso Independent School District Trust Fund.
Aguirre has been an active contributing member of NASW at the local, state and national level. He served on the NASW National Board of Directors (1974-77) and the National Task Force on Minority Affairs (1979-81).
Significant Achievements and Awards
Rafael Aguirre received the 2006 Lifetime Achievement Award-El Paso Chapter, Social Worker of the year award-El Paso Chapter, 1984; was designated as Master Marriage and Family Therapist by the National Association of Latino Social Workers in 1996; and received a Unit Award Certification for Excellence of Service in 1970 by the U.S. Department of the Interior, Bureau of Indian Affairs.