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Charlotte Clarke

 

Charlotte Clarke's influence on the practice of social work and the betterment of the human condition is profound and extends beyond the geographic area of east Texas where she has lived since the late 1970s.  She has demonstrated leadership and has become a role model for social work professionals as she practiced as a generalist social worker,

caseworker, community organizer, administrator, educator and founder of Holt House, Inc., the first non-profit senior resource center of its kind in the nation.

The founding of Holt House, Inc. of Tyler, Texas clearly demonstrates Ms. Clarke's sustained commitment to making a difference for a vulnerable segment of the population.  Her vision was of a place where elderly persons could find assistance and support services to allow them to "age in place." That vision developed from watching her own parents slowly disengage from activities, friends and support as they aged and became less able. In 1985, with her own personal resources and sheer will, Ms. Clarke acquired a stately old home, refurbished it, and opened it to the aging community in East Texas.

Holt House offers assisted traveling, social and educational opportunities, low-cost meals, mutual support, resource sharing, and a home-like place for hundreds of elderly persons. The current eleven member Board of Directors of this private, non-profit resource center are members whose average age is 77 (three board members are 90 or over, only one younger than 70) who demonstrate "growing older better" and provide testimony to how Holt House has enriched their lives. The most common reaction when asked what has Holt House means to a member is, "Holt House has been my lifesaver!”

Remarkably, Charlotte established Holt House in her spare time during a very distinguished career as the first Director of Social Work for a regional social work program with the Texas Department of Health. In 1978, Charlotte found her lifework when an offer came to establish a program for families and their children with special health care needs in the rural east Texas region of the Texas Department of Health. The job offer intrigued her because of her personal experience as a child with a chronic illness in rural Louisiana, in a family with limited means. In the beginning, Charlotte worked as the only social worker and traveled a 38 county area, attempting to link children with needed but often non-existing services. The experience of encountering teenage children with unrepaired cleft lip/palate, and children not enrolled in school because of their handicaps, created within her a vision of a comprehensive system of services for families. As an administrator, she tirelessly set about educating and working within an unfriendly bureaucracy to establish a system that would eventually place a social worker in every county so communities would have a point of access and assistance for their children with health needs. She never wavered in her determination, in spite of incredible funding and organizational barriers. Her success led to the establishment of the first Department of Social Work in the agency, and the first Director of Social Work Services. Ms. Clarke engaged with the Medical Director, nursing and nutrition programs to provide a collaborative approach to services. Ultimately, her administrative skills and her vision lead to the development of a continuum of care from health care access and prevention services to rehabilitation for children from birth to age 21. Engaging the help of medical schools in Galveston and Dallas, she initiated specialty clinics for pediatric cardiology and orthopedics in three sites within the region. At the time, the region (roughly the geographic size of Ireland) had no practicing pediatric sub specialists. She also helped establish a cleft palate/cleft lip clinic in this rural area where there was no access before.

Professional social work education has been a standard on which Ms. Clarke would allow no compromise. Before Social Work licensure or certification were effected in Texas, she always insisted on hiring only professionally educated individuals, and that was extremely difficult working in a public agency during the 70s and 80s. She has provided field supervision for many students, both undergraduate and graduate students, and has encouraged qualified members of her staff to do so as well. She promoted continued education, both by frequently offering her talents as a presenter, and by fostering opportunities for staff. She cofounded the Social Work Section of the Texas Public Health Association.

In her early career, Charlotte contributed to the education of many professional social workers as the first Coordinator of Undergraduate Field Education at the University of Texas-Austin School of Social Work (1970-1977). In that role, she participated with a small pioneer group of Texas Undergraduate educators in conceptualizing and implementing curriculum for educating a Generalist practitioner at the undergraduate level all across Texas.

Ms. Clarke cannot imagine a Social Work educator or practitioner not belonging to our professional organization. She has been a continuous member of NASW since beginning graduate school at LSU in 1962, and lead the establishment in 1980, of the Northeast Texas Unit (Branch) of NASW, linking 30 NASW members in 38 counties. She served as first Unit Chair and was elected state Chapter vice president and Texas delegate to Delegate Assembly in 1984 and 1987. In 1986, she reactivated the geographically dispersed Unit, and served again as Unit Chair for more than 200 members in 12 counties. In 1997, Charlotte Clarke was honored as the Texas Chapter's Lifetime Achievement award recipient in acknowledgment of her contributions to the profession.

Charlotte Clarke is a true role model for social workers. At least two Texas branch lifetime achievement awardees during social work month this year spoke gratefully of the influence Charlotte had on their careers. When a beginning social worker tries to identify the personal characteristics of a successful social worker, Charlotte Clarke is unequivocally an example of vision, innovation, will and determination, courage, strength, stamina and principle. She is tireless in her advocacy for families, children and the aging.

Since retiring, Ms. Clarke has volunteered in India, Belize and with Heifer Foundation International.  She is also a certified professional geriatric care manager and provides pro bono planning and management for families and their older family members. 

Social Work Pioneer® —2005

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