Evelyn Diaz: A Social Wonder

Lawndale News Chicago's Bilingual Newspaper - Local News

Celebrating Women

By: Ashmar Mandou

This is one of my favorite issues of the year when we have the chance to put a spotlight and celebrate extraordinary women across Chicago during Women’s History Month. Each year, we scour communities to introduce you to women who dedicate their lives to transforming communities around them whether through social work or writing workshops. This year, we bring you Diana Pando, a literary renaissance woman, and Evelyn Diaz, a social wonder who has helped developed programs for disadvantaged women and youth. We hope these women inspire you to make a difference in your community and give back.

By: Ashmar Mandou

Recently, Evelyn Diaz, commissioner of Chicago’s Department of Family and Support Services, received the Social Worker of the Year Award by the National Association of Social Workers Illinois Chapter, for her work in delivering social service programs to over 300,000 residents in the areas of youth, children, homelessness, domestic violence, and human services. Appointed by Mayor Rahm Emanuel in May 2011, Diaz infuses passion and dedication into her line of work and takes delight in the transformations happening around the city of Chicago. “Nothing makes me happier than seeing programs changing the lives of many residents in our communities,” said Evelyn Diaz.

Prior to working in the government sector, Diaz was Associate Director of the Chicago Jobs Council. She has also worked at the community level providing individual and group counsel in domestic violence and managing community-based programs for disadvantage women. As part of our Women’s History Month issue, which also coincides with Social Workers Awareness Month, we put a spotlight on Diaz for her emphatic energy when it comes to her work and the advice she gives for those who would like a career in social work.

Journey to Social Work
I stumbled upon social work accidentally. All of my life I wanted to be a lawyer. That is what I prepared for, but before I applied to law schools I decided I wanted to have a Spanish-language immersion experience somewhere else. So I went to live in a rural area in Costa Rica and it was an incredible experience. I lived in a tiny town where status meant nothing, not like it does here. So it really got me exited about working with communities and working with people from those communities. So after having that experience, I realized I didn’t want to go to law school. A week before I was supposed to come back to the states, I received a call from my mother telling me she needed to have back surgery and if I would run this health center while she recuperated. I knew nothing about how to run a health center so my mother would train me over the phone on how to work with clients. So I did that for a while and enjoyed every minute of it. Later on, I received this call by the larger group in Elgin, who ran our clinic, asking if I would work for them doing crisis work and creating programs. I was hooked after that.

Power of Social Work

I love what I do. My entire motivation comes from what I do and what I love most about social work is the ability to transform lives. I have, in my entire career, worked with people who have suffered, who experienced terrible things in their life, and they would come in through our doors ready for change. I believe in the power of social work to help people come out of a state of hopelessness and defeatist attitude to positive and powerful individuals. Now from my current position as Commissioner for Family and Support services, I think about transformation in terms of how programs can change lives.

Following Suit
For young people who are interested in entering into social work I have always said to just go for it. There are so many agencies that can benefit from a young, passionate mind. I got an amazing experience just working with people from all walks of life, I lived in another country, I soaked up as much experience as I could. I would tell those interested to go do the work first, counsel people who are in need, join organizations, look for agencies in need of volunteers, get all the experience under your belt.

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