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  • NASW-IL Staff

From the Pen of the President: August 2021

NASW-Illinois Chapter President Kenna Dunlap Johnson, MBA, MSW, LCSW

NASW-IL President Kenna Dunlap Johnson, MBA, MSW, LCSW

On July 1, 2021, I started a two-year term as president for the NASW-Illinois Chapter Board of Directors. I am truly grateful for the membership that we have here at NASW-Illinois, and I thank you for the faith that you have put into selecting me as your president for this term. It was July 2015 when I began my first term on our chapter board as the newly elected East Central District Chair. Leading up to that point, I had been a member of the NASW since 2008 when I joined as a soon-to-graduate MSW student. During the earlier years of my career, I often wondered what the NASW was doing. I thought, “What is the purpose of this membership outside of the fact that this is who guides decisions surrounding our ethics?” The NASW Code of Ethics was a strong enough reason for me to always maintain my membership I felt, but I wanted to learn more. I attended some CEU events, met NASW-Illinois Chapter Executive Director Joel Rubin, and decided that I was going to step up to be a part of this bigger entity that had so much impact on my profession. I often feel like if I want to learn more about something, it may help me to just sort of anxiously throw myself into it. After serving as the East Central District Chair for two terms, I served as vice-president for the chapter. I cannot tell you how rewarding this experience has been for me. Not only have I truly been able to gain clarity on what the association does for our profession, but I have also gained so many friendships with social workers across the state of Illinois and beyond. It has truly been a deeper experience than I ever imagined.

I love social work. Several years ago when I was working toward a bachelor’s degree in psychology, I was also working part-time for an inpatient psychiatric facility as a mental health tech. At that time, I wasn’t entirely sure which way I was going to go with a graduate education, but I was exposed to many social workers there in my place of work. At some point during that time, I realized that social work was calling my name. The exposure to social workers, along with my love for Tyne Daly’s character on the show, Judging Amy, were truly the impetus for my selection. I decided to earn my MSW at the University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign where I had also attended for undergrad. Since that time, I have had the privilege of working in inpatient psychiatric case management with children and adolescents. I was also able to spend the second part of my career building a rural outpatient behavioral health program with a multifaceted approach. I spent some time working in leadership over an inpatient and substance use disorder hospital assessment and crisis team. I have now moved into what I like to call the third phase of my career which is in the healthcare consulting industry. No matter where we are, I think that social workers bring so much to the table. We as social workers understand the importance of relationships and how to cultivate them. When it comes to finding a seat at the table and making change, this is a vital skill, and as we look forward, I believe that it is becoming even more vital of a skillset for organizations, agencies, and communities.

We have a lot of work to do. Considering the challenges, we and those we serve have been faced with the onset and continuance of the COVID-19 pandemic, and we know that the work of social workers is imperative to assist with the necessary efforts toward stabilization. The work of our Task Force on Racial Justice must also continue. Their recommendations have been identified and highlighted in the “Final Recommendations: NASW-Illinois Chapter Task Force on Racial Justice” article last fall. Other work that must continue on is work that supports the social work workforce challenges we are facing, ongoing advocacy for telehealth, and so much more. We have not made the strides we have made without the work of the association leadership, staff, and members. But our work is not finished, and we must continue onwards, together.

With that, I want to again say THANK YOU for the confidence you have put in me to lead this chapter, and THANK YOU for bringing forth such an amazing board of directors to continue leading and supporting our mission and goals as an association. In the words of the inventor of the first polio vaccine, Jonas Salk, “The greatest reward for doing is the opportunity to do more.”


Kenna Dunlap Johnson, MBA, MSW, LCSW (MBA, University of St. Francis; MSW, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign) began working in the mental health field as a psychiatric inpatient mental health tech in 2004 prior to earning her MSW. After earning a degree in social work, Kenna continued on as case manager, therapist, and now director of behavioral health for a rural critical access hospital in east central Illinois. In addition to her role as hospital department director, Kenna also teaches graduate and undergraduate social work courses for the University of Illinois and Mental Health First Aid courses for community members. Kenna served as East Central District Chair for two terms on the NASW-Illinois Chapter Board of Directors and currently serves as Vice-President for Budget and Finance. Kenna also serves her local school district as secretary for the board of education. Kenna is passionate about behavioral health treatment in rural settings as well as working to decrease stigma associated with mental illness. Kenna has also played a significant role in the NASW-Illinois Chapter Social Work Workforce Initiative as chair for the chapter's efforts to address social work workforce challenges and continue to grow and expand the valuable profession of social work.

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