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  • NASW-IL Staff

2021 NASW-Illinois Chapter Election Results

Thank you to those who took part in this year's 2021 NASW-Illinois Chapter Elections during the month of April. Below are the individuals you voted for who will work to represent and serve you on the NASW-Illinois Chapter Board of Directors starting July 1, 2021.

Welcome to our new and returning board members!



Alison Leipsiger, MSW, LSW (MSW, Washington University in St. Louis) is a social worker in the policy and advocacy space, passionate about the ways in which social workers can shape and influence government. She began her career working for an Illinois state legislator and now works for an organization dedicated to helping progressive state legislators across the country fight for progressive values. Alison loves connecting experts to policymakers, bridging the gap between the "on the ground" work and the policies meant to help everyone thrive. Alison previously served as NASW-Illinois Chapter Member At-Large and thoroughly enjoyed advocating for and hearing from social workers in an effort to better understand the needs of all types of social workers and to make our collective voices heard. She is eager to join the board again to continue her advocacy. As someone with a nontraditional social worker role, Alison is constantly inspired by all the incredible work her fellow social workers are doing across the state.

Alison is deeply committed to racial equity in everything that she does. She is a team player and likes to help others succeed. She is a board member of the University of Illinois College of ACES Alumni Association, a steering committee member of the Illinois Asset Building Group, a member of the Turning Point Behavioral Health Center Advisory Board, and a recipient of the NASW Emerging Leader Award

MEMBER AT-LARGE, 2021–2023 (Two-year term)

Adana Cranfield, MSW, LCSW (MSW, Aurora University) is adjunct professor and a doctoral candidate at Aurora University. She has adopted the life mission of Maya Angelou as her own, “[N]ot merely to survive, but to thrive; and to do so with some passion, some compassion, some humor, and some style.” Adana views social work as an opportunity to join with others in their journey beyond mere survival. She believes an individual’s ability to thrive is found in realizing their unique design and purpose. Adana values the power of relationship and strives for a posture of grace and empathy in her work as a social change agent. She is a brave and passionate advocate for social justice. Through case management with the Department of Children and Family Services and Department on Aging, in addition to ten years of experience as a school social worker, Adana has developed a strong conviction in the resiliency of individuals, communities, and society. Along with Adana’s work experience, she brings passion, compassion, humor, and style to the social work profession.


Angel J. Diaz (BSW, Northeastern Illinois University) will be a first-year graduate student at The University of Chicago in the fall. I currently serve as president of the Northeastern Illinois University Student Government Association where we successfully advocated for student representation on the university's COVID-19 task force while also advocating for additional resources for our student health services. I campaigned on the importance of our students' mental health while currently collaborating with our counseling department to host a self-care workshop. I’ve also had the honor of previously serving as president of the Chicago District Association of Student Councils and being appointed by the Chicago Board of Education to serve as the Honorary Student Board Member. Accomplishments include securing funding from the mayor’s office for restorative justice practices throughout Chicago. I'm excited to be a part of NASW while continuing to advocate for our student's success and strengthening communication across the state.


No candidates were nominated.

EAST CENTRAL DISTRICT CHAIR, 2021–2023 (Two-year term)

Melissa Box, MS, LCSW, LSOE, LSOTP (MS, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign) has 10 years of experience helping families heal from trauma. She has received training in play therapy and specializes in working with young children and their parents to reduce trauma-related symptoms and process abuse and neglect. Melissa is also skilled in treating children with sexual behavior problems and children who have experienced foster care and adoption. Melissa believes that parents have the power to help their children heal from trauma and that children have the power within themselves to find the way to healing. Melissa is passionate about the primary prevention of child sexual abuse and trauma and is currently pursuing her master's in public health. Melissa believes in the power of evidence-based approaches, community collaboration, and resilience-building initiatives to prevent adverse childhood experiences. Melissa has been involved in statewide consultation and support services for therapists affiliated with the Illinois Coalition Against Sexual Assault (ICASA). She is also an advocate for quality, ongoing professional/continuing education for social workers on the front lines who carry the burden of mental health and wellness for so many children and families. Melissa believes Black Lives Matter and love is love and is a compassionate advocate for anti-racism, cultural consciousness and humility, and the celebration of all abilities.

NORTHEASTERN DISTRICT CHAIR, 2021–2023 (Two-year term)

Jenny Andersen, MSW, LCSW (MSW, Loyola University Chicago) has extensive experience working with adolescents and their families. Jenny currently works as prevention and wellness coordinator at Grayslake North High School where she oversees all-school social emotional learning and equity, and as therapist in private practice at Gurnee Counseling Center where she sees a range of clients.

Jenny has been very involved in the National Association of Social Workers as a national presenter on equity and inclusion, a specialty practice committee chair, and appointee to the committee on LGBTQ issues. This year, she has been a panelist for NASW on racial equity and white privilege. Her particular areas of expertise include racial justice, working with LGBTQ clients, and mindfulness.

THREE RIVERS DISTRICT CHAIR, 2021–2023 (Two-year term)

Becka Ross, MSW, LCSW (MSW, University of Illinois at Chicago) is a passionate advocate for access to quality mental health and suicide prevention. Becka has been in the field of mental health in many different capacities for 15 years. Currently chief program officer at Crisis Text Line, Becka oversees the clinical team to ensure quality crisis intervention through text messaging. In her time with Crisis Text Line, she has been part of expanding their service to 3 other countries, using machine learning and technology to improve the speed and quality of crisis intervention through text. Additionally, during the past 6 months, she has been on the executive team that is leading through an incredible transformation of equity. Previous experience includes work at residential treatment facilities, community organizing, and private practice, all in Chicago. If I were to have the honor of serving on the NASW-Illinois Chapter Board of Directors, I would like to offer my expertise and experience of transformation and equity in mental health, specifically within the social work community. We are at a critical juncture in our work where the responsibilities lie with each of us to ensure that equity is at the center of our work. I would like to share what I have learned from an organizational perspective.

WEST CENTRAL DISTRICT CHAIR, 2021–2023 (Two-year term)

Kimberly Palermo, MSW (MSW, Southern Illinois University Carbondale) is legislative and regulatory liaison at Illinois Health Care Association (IHCA), a state affiliate of American Health Care Association which serves over 500 long term care centers across the state and strives to educate and advocate for the long term care profession. She was selected for a highly competitive research fellowship at the Paul Simon Public Policy Institute at Southern Illinois University (SIU) Carbondale. Also, she was selected as an SIU Trauma-Based Behavioral Health Fellow at the SIU School of Medicine. These opportunities allowed her to advocate for underserved populations on a macro level. During her graduate studies, Kimberly served as advisor on the Governor’s Statewide Human Trafficking Taskforce and Illinois Department of Children and Family Service to develop new strategies to shine light on human trafficking in Illinois and advocate for victims and survivors. She continues to serve on the Central Illinois Human Trafficking Taskforce. She conducted a federal grant review for the U.S. Attorney Office - Springfield Division and co-directed the medical-focused human trafficking conference titled, “They Never Asked,” in Springfield, IL. In her current role, Kimberly oversees regulatory, survey, and policy issues for IHCA. She leads the COVID-19 response for the association and analyzes current infection control guidance, regulations, and assures prioritization of the vaccine rollout for LTC facilities in our state. She was recently selected as SIU School of Social Work Alumni of the Year.

SOUTHERN DISTRICT CHAIR, 2021–2022 (Special election, one-year term)

Diona Shelton, MSW, LCSW (MSW, Southern Illinois University Edwardsville) has a professional certification as a child and adolescent trauma professional and is certified as a clinical trauma professional through Evergreen Certifications. She holds membership with the Illinois Association of School Social Workers (IASSW), the National Association of Social Workers (NASW), the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), and the National Society of Leadership and Success (NSLS). Diona has practiced as a school social worker in Illinois for over 15 years and enjoys interacting with youth and being a part of their growth and development. She maintains a private counseling practice in Troy, Illinois, and specializes in working with children and adolescents with a variety of emotional and behavioral needs. Diona is currently a doctoral student at Capella University in Minneapolis, Minnesota.



ILLINOIS DELEGATES, (Three-year term)

  1. Karyn L. Aguirre, MEd, MSW, BS, LCSW

  2. Mary E. Garrison, LCSW, ACSW

  3. Jennifer Gazda, MSW, BSW, DSW, LCSW

  4. Ruth Lipschutz, LCSW, ACSW

  5. Latesha Newson, MSW, LCSW

  6. Don Phelps, PhD, LCSW

  7. Cheryl Pristas, LCSW, ACSW

  8. Diane D. Williams, AM, MSW

  9. Reserved for Chapter President in 2023


Karyn L. Aguirre, MEd, MSW, BS, LCSW, is a native Chicagoan who began her professional career with MCI in July 1986. Unfulfilled, she sought to become an attorney and begin a career with the Cook County State's Attorney's Office. Realizing her true passion was shaping, molding, and impacting the lives of others, she found her niche and true calling in November 2004 working as school social worker with Chicago Public Schools. To date, she has serviced at-risk juveniles, students with profound and severe emotional disorders and behavioral challenges, and with Low Incidence Disabilities. She has presented workshops for several professional organizations and served as guest lecturer. In addition, she has served on two Community Advisory Boards with the Community Outreach Intervention Project at the University of Illinois at Chicago and has received numerous awards and recognition in the education field and her community, including being selected as the 2017 Chicago Defender Women of Excellence and the Steve and Sandi Adams Legacy Hall of Fame 2020 Inductee.

Karyn patterns her personal and professional life through inspiring, mentoring, and empowering others. Over the years, she has lent her time and talents unselfishly to various organizations and causes. She is most proud of her work as the immediate past president of the Illinois State University Black Colleagues Association, a member of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc., and her work with Different Shades of Pink, an organization that caters to the right now needs of cancer fighters and survivors.

Mary E. Garrison, LCSW, ACSW, is professor of social work at Millikin University and a clinical supervisor and consultant with over 30+ years of practice in mental health services, policy, and advocacy. Mary provides professional workshops, presentations, and trainings both domestically and internationally regarding ethics, cultural competence, homelessness, and mental health. Mary currently serves as Illinois Delegate for the NASW Delegate Assembly (2018–2021), as NASW-Illinois Chapter East Central District Chair, is a member of the Governing Board for the Macon County Continuum of Care, and serves as Point-In-Time Homeless Count Coordinator for Macon County. Mary is currently a board member and leadership council member of Kennedy Forum Illinois, the Good Samaritan Inn (President), and Webster Cantrell Youth Advocacy. Mary advocates passionately and fights for social justice for individuals facing issues regarding mental health, poverty, and homelessness. Mary is past recipient of the NASW-Illinois Chapter Social Worker of the Year Award, the Cesar Chavez Social Justice Award (2 times), and the first recipient of the Macon County Continuum of Care Advocate of the Year Award. Mary published a co-authored book titled, Your Playbook for Beating Depression: Essential Strategies for Managing and Living with Depression.

Jennifer Gazda, MSW, BSW, DSW, LCSW, has 20 years of experience as a social worker throughout the Chicagoland area. She began her career in 2001 in child welfare before entering therapy and medical-based social work. Jennifer currently serves as clinical manager of over ten care management professionals at Arosa, one of the largest national care management companies in the US. Her tenure at Arosa has allowed her to assist clients of all ages and abilities, with a primary specialization in geriatrics, developmental disability services, and medically complex clients. Jennifer is also adjunct professor at Aurora University in Illinois where she teaches master's-level social work practice and theory. She is a member of NASW, the National Guardianship Association, and Aging Life Care Association. Jennifer's research interests include resilience and identifying gaps in service provision for vulnerable populations. Jennifer has a strong background in advocacy in her individual clinical work and hopes to serve NASW as Illinois Delegate in order to broaden her skills to the macro level.

Ruth Lipschutz, LCSW, ACSW, is a licensed clinical social worker with postgraduate certification in ethics, mediation, Transformational Imagery (trainer level), hypnotherapy, Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR), and Thought Field Therapy (TFT). She received her MSW from the University of Illinois in 1978 and went on to complete the two-year postgraduate training program at the Institute for Family Studies at Northwestern University. She has extensive experience in the areas of ethics, school social work, addictions, community mental health, eating disorders, traumatology, program development and implementation, supervision, consultation, and Alternative Dispute Resolution. She has worked in English and Spanish with individuals, couples, families and groups.

Ruth has presented workshops locally and nationally for over thirty years and has written numerous ethics articles for the NASW-Illinois Chapter. She has served as chairperson of the national NASW Ethics Committee and participated in multiple ethics task force efforts. She currently serves as panelist, consultant, mediator, and trainer for the NASW-Illinois Chapter Ethics Committee and has served as member-at-large on the NASW-Illinois Chapter Board of Directors. She is now Region IX representative on the National NASW Board, has a private practice, and offers ethics consultation and training to social workers.

Latesha Newson, MSW, LCSW, serves as behavioral health care management specialist at Blue Cross and Blue Shield. She is a fierce advocate for individuals living with mental illness and substance abuse. She also is passionate about children and families in the child welfare system, which is an area she worked in for over 5 years as individual therapist, parent-child coach, and supervisor for an agency therapist. Latesha works diligently to protect and empower the clients she serves. Latesha strongly believes in leading with integrity, compassion, and hard work. She is committed to advocacy, social justice, and humanitarian efforts. Latesha embodies servant leadership and currently serves as Village of Park Forest Commissioner of Human Relations. She also serves as adjunct professor of social work at her alma mater, Governors State University. Latesha has been instrumental in bringing community awareness to the “Ban the Box” initiative regarding barriers to education for returning citizens impacted by mass incarceration as well as advocacy for children and families in child welfare. Latesha currently serves as NASW-Illinois Chapter Calumet District Chair has provided education through workshops and presentations from experienced leaders in the field.

Don Phelps, PhD, LCSW, a tenured, full professor of social work at Aurora University. He worked as adjunct faculty member for 9 years before coming to the university full-time in 2001. Since 1985, he has worked as youth and family therapist, outdoor adventure therapist, clinical director, chief operating officer, and chief executive officer in behavioral healthcare. Phelps has received many university awards for his teaching and community service. In 2016, he received the AUSA Meritorious Faculty Award; in 2012, the SWA Professor of the Year Award; in 2010, John McKee Citizenship Award; and in 2003, the Trumbo Excellence in Teaching Award. He has served in many leadership roles in the NASW-Illinois Chapter including board president (2015–2017). In 2007, he received the Social Worker of the Year Award in the Three Rivers District. Phelps has served as Illinois Delegate to NASW Delegate Assembly for the last 12 years. In 2003, Phelps served as a member of a professional delegation from NASW-Illinois Chapter to South Africa. During a university sabbatical in 2011, Phelps provided training and clinical consultation at the Casa Hogar Los Angelitos orphanage in Manzanillo, Mexico. Since then he has continued to do pro bono work for the orphanage and has written several articles and given presentations in Mexico and the US on the use of trauma-informed therapy and expressive arts with children who have experienced developmental trauma.

Cheryl Pristas, LCSW, ACSW, is currently healthcare operations manager at DaVita Dialysis. She has worked in numerous practice settings including dialysis, schools, managed care insurance, domestic violence, nonprofit, private practice, and clinical supervision. She has taken on leadership roles throughout her career in both the for-profit and nonprofit sectors. She has most recently moved from regional lead social worker to Healthcare Operations Manager at DaVita, providing overall operations management of an outpatient dialysis clinic. She has worked as member of interdisciplinary teams providing support to members with managed Medicaid insurance and to patients in the dialysis clinics. She has volunteered with the Will County Take Back the Night Committee and will continue to volunteer with Guardian Angel Community Services, Groundwork Domestic Violence Program when COVID restrictions are lifted. Cheryl is passionate about being a social worker and advocating for the profession.

Diane D. Williams, AM, MSW, is a social work advocate, researcher, and aging specialist focused on advancing social work practice for the older adult community. Diane is a dedicated professional, who is committed to engaging our younger generations to invest in our diverse older adult communities. Diane Williams is instructor and PhD student at Loyola University Chicago School of Social Work. Diane has taught both undergraduate and graduate-level social welfare and social work courses focused on the history of social welfare policies in the United States. These courses examine social welfare problems, the system of social welfare, and its interrelationships with direct practice and service deliverables, especially as it relates to vulnerable populations.

Diane's previous experience ranges from practicing social work in a middle school in the Bronx (New York) to consulting on the Ryan White Program for the Chicago Department of Public Health. Most recently, Diane worked on the Disrupt Disparities Report for the State of Illinois which focuses on racial disparities among older adults across topic areas of economic security, health equity, and connectivity. Diane advocates for BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and People Of Color) older adult communities and promotes social welfare policies which aim to equitably address the disparate needs of racial/ethnic communities.

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