NASW Foundation National Programs
NASW Social Work Pioneers®
Odessa Sayles (1932 - 2008)
Odessa Sayles was a founding member of the Association of Black Social Workers in Houston, Texas. She also served as its third president and was a program chair for many years. Sayles was a strong advocate for adoptive children and supported the adoption of Black children by Black parents. She initiated the idea of Adoption Picnic/Adoption Festival where foster children and potential adoptive parents could mingle in a supportive yet informal environment. This was a place to break barriers to adoption. Sayles was also a key player in the development of So La Ti Village, a church-sponsored residential children’s home for abused and neglected children with a mission of keeping siblings together.
Odessa Sayles spent the majority of her 24-year career as program director and lead program director of Harris County Children’s Protective Services. She began her career at Julia C. Hester House, where she worked for 11 years as a music instructor, group worker and director of summer day camp before returning for her master’s in social work.
During her career, she traveled across the United States conducting workshops on foster care, adoption and permanency planning and served on the National Committee on Termination of Parental Rights. She was also one of the innovators of Guidelines for the Adoption of Black Children and was a founder of the Bennett-Brooks Literary Society, which reviewed books by and about Black people.
Odessa Sayles received her MA in social work for Our Lady of the Lake University in Texas in 1967. She received her BA in music from Texas Southern University in 1954.
Significant Achievements and Awards
At her retirement in 1993, she received proclamations from former Texas Governor Ann Richards, former Congresswoman Barbara Jordan, and former U.S. President Bill Clinton.
Sayles was active in the local National Association for Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), where she served as branch chairwoman and chairwoman emeritus of the Life Membership Committee for 19 years.
Lewis, N., Sayles, O. & Batiste-Roberts, GF. (1995). In the Spirit of Sankofa : Houston's Black Pioneers in Social Work. Missouri City, TX: N.C Lewis and O. Sayles.