NASW Foundation National Programs
NASW Social Work Pioneers®
Helen Bell Kapiloff, ACSW
Helen Bell Kapiloff’s pioneering work with the Veterans’ Administration (VA) in Houston, Texas, has made her a legend in the Houston social work community. Serving as chief of social work from 1946¾when the decision was first made to build a VA facility in Houston¾until 1996, Kapiloff was instrumental in collaborating with Baylor University College of Medicine to develop a social work research program in the VA.
A passionate and tireless advocate for the inclusion of social work in the medical community, she campaigned and lobbied Texas Legislature for a Graduate School of Social Work at University of Houston. As a founder of the school, she served on curriculum committees and advisory panels to assure the quality of social work education and insure the inclusion of medical social work. Under Kapiloff’s supervision, more than 300 social work students were placed at the VA for field instruction.
The daughter of immigrant parents (from Russia and Poland) who came to the United States and settled in a small Jewish community in Houston, Texas, Kapiloff grew up with sensitivity for those who are not part of mainstream life in the U.S., as well as for people who face great adversity while trying to make a living.
At the age of 16, Kapiloff entered Rice University to study sociology. During her undergraduate studies, she completed several local field placements in public agencies, including the Harris County Welfare Department. Kapiloff indicated a true interest and ability in working with people to better their lives and, thus, was encouraged to attend University of Chicago’s School of Social Work Administration upon graduation from Rice.
Upon completion of graduate studies at the University of Chicago, Kapiloff began her distinguished career as a medical social worker at Johns Hopkins Hospital, in Baltimore. She was also a caseworker for the Committee for the Care of Jewish Tuberculosis, part of the Jewish Federation, in New York City, and worked in the American Red Cross in the Military and Naval Welfare program at Fort Mead, Md., before joining the staff at the Veterans Administration.
Kapiloff’s many honors and awards include Social Worker of the Year and Lifetime Achievement Award, Houston Chapter, NASW. She also served as part of the NASW/Texas State Delegation to the National Delegate Assembly for several terms.
Social Work Pioneer 2001