NASW Pioneers Biography Index

The National Association of Social Workers Foundation is pleased to present the NASW Social Work Pioneers®. NASW Pioneers are social workers who have explored new territories and built outposts for human services on many frontiers. Some are well known, while others are less famous outside their immediate colleagues, and the region where they live and work. But each one has made an important contribution to the social work profession, and to social policies through service, teaching, writing, research, program development, administration, or legislation.

The NASW Pioneers have paved the way for thousands of other social workers to contribute to the betterment of the human condition; and they are are role models for future generations of social workers. The NASW Foundation has made every effort to provide accurate Pioneer biographies.  Please contact us at to provide missing information, or to correct inaccurate information. It is very important to us to correctly tell these important stories and preserve our history.  

Please note, an asterisk attached to a name reflects Pioneers who have passed away. All NASW Social Work Pioneers® Bios are Copyright © 2021 National Association of Social Workers Foundation. All Rights Reserved.

Skip Navigation Links
Leonard Stern
Leonard Stern*

Leonard Stern had a long and distinguished career as a social worker and member of NASW. Over a period of 50-plus years at both the local and national level, he developed policies, built and managed programs, and provided consultation and evaluation services to a variety of human service organizations, professional associations, and governmental agencies.

Stern's superb group work and community organizational skills were manifest early and were a central theme throughout his professional career. Following graduation from the University of Pennsylvania, School of Social Work and several years of supervisory experience in settlement houses and community centers, Stern became Director of Community Services for the Philadelphia Department of Public Welfare. There he initiated, established, and administered programs for a new youth services/delinquency prevention agency along with carrying responsibility for a network of neighborhood citizen organizations, a first offender diversion program, and arranging for private agencies to work with youth gangs.

Stern's experience and accomplishments in the field of juvenile crime led him to Washington, D.C. where he served as Community Organization Specialist for President Kennedy's Committee on Juvenile Delinquency and Youth Crime. Subsequently he was selected as Demonstration Programs Chief, Office of Juvenile Delinquency and Youth Development within the Department of Health, Education and Welfare (HEW). There, in one of the first of the "Great Society" programs, he played a key role in fostering the development of new approaches to delinquency prevention, treatment, and control.

Following passage of the Model Cities Act, Stern was named Deputy Program Director for Evaluation for the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development's Model Cities Administration. In 1968 he was appointed Deputy Assistant Secretary for Youth, Department of Health, Education and Welfare. In this capacity he developed policy, advised on, and coordinated, departmental programs and served as liaison to other federal departments and the White House. With the change of administrations, in 1968-1989, Stern left the Federal Government and moved on as Assistant to the President of the National Urban Coalition. During his six years of federal service, Stern was prominent among a cadre of social workers who had vital roles in formulating, shaping, and implementing an array of civil rights and human services programs that marked the Kennedy and Johnson era.

In 1972, when the NASW National Office relocated to Washington, Stern was appointed Associate Executive Director, a position he held for 10 years. During his tenure the Association grew in both size and influence. Membership doubled, the chapter structure was reorganized, an affirmative action program (which Stern oversaw) was implemented, PACE was inaugurated, numerous public social policies and professional standards were adopted, NASW's role as coalition-builder and leader expanded, and technical assistance and support of state licensing efforts produced a breakthrough in legal regulation across the country.

Stern's supervisory and managerial expertise was a critical factor in each of these accomplishments. His effective work with volunteer leadership and his coordination of staff activities reflected his unique organizational and group skills. In working with staff and committees, he was the consummate group worker. Many colleagues and supervisors believed he had few equals in this regard. Len Stern brought out the best in volunteer leadership and staff, while building consensus and empathy within the organization.

After leaving NASW, in 1983, Stern assumed the position of Executive Director of the National Assembly of Voluntary Health and Social Welfare Organizations. From 1990 until his retirement in 2010, he worked independently as a management consultant and evaluator of programs, projects and systems for a varied and impressive group of national associations, foundations, corporations, and not-for-profit organizations.

Newly Inducted NASW Social Work Pioneer Hortense McClinton 2015

Nominate A New NASW Pioneer

Please note, Pioneer nominations made between today’s date through March 31, 2023, will not be reviewed until spring 2023.

Completed NASW Pioneer nominations can be submitted throughout the year and are reviewed at the June Pioneer Steering Committee Meeting. To be considered at the June meeting, submit your nomination package by March 31. To learn more, visit our Pioneer nomination guidelines.

New Pioneers 

Congratulations newly elected Pioneers!  Pioneers will be inducted at the 2023  Annual Program and Luncheon. Full biographies and event details coming soon.