Grace Mitchell, MSW '79
Grace Mitchell has dedicated her life's work to assisting youth, and advocating for families in the local community. Learn how she continues to make a difference, years after her retirement.
“I moved to Urbana-Champaign in 1978 from Baltimore, Maryland, where I was raised in the McCollum Homes housing projects with my grandmother. As a single parent and welfare recipient, I struggled to raise my daughter and survive the vicious circle of poverty. I was actively involved in working with the adolescents in the community, encouraging them to stay in school as a means of proving to themselves and others that they could do it and make something of themselves.
It was not until the social worker for the housing development told me that I really had the potential to one day become a social worker. Of course, I did not really think I could go to college, since doing hair was my claim to fame. I went on, with the assistance of Ms. Maude Parker, the housing authority social worker and enrolled at Morgan State University, where I obtained my undergraduate degree in social work. That journey was not easy, since I had graduated from high school 14 years earlier. However, with the grace of God and his guidance, I made it, graduating in the top 5% of the graduating class of 962 student. As a result of my accomplishments, I was awarded a fellowship to attend the University of Illinois and the work in Champaign County begins.”
Q&A’s with Grace:
1) What prompted you to take on the Executive Director role at Family Advocacy in Champaign County?
“After retiring from the Urbana School District after 34 years of service, I began working at the Director of Family Advocacy in Champaign County (FACC). My passion is helping youth and families and have been doing so for over 5 years at FACC.”
2) Can you tell us a bit about the programming you developed to foster healthy relationships between parents and children who are in the child welfare system?
“The programs used at FACC include The Family Table/Parent Café groups, individual and group parenting skills training, Life skills training, which includes financial literacy. We also offer Anger Management groups for teens and adults, as well as counseling and parent/teen relationship sessions. One of the many services provided at FACC is 3rd Party and Supervised visit for parents whose children are either in foster care or with relatives. This allows parents to develop and maintain the bonds and relationships that they have with their children.”
3) What challenges do you face on a daily basis?
“The major challenge FACC is faced with deals with funding. However, FACC has managed to weather the storm during the state’s budget crisis. FACC continues to seek funding which will enable the agency to continue to provide services for the Champaign-Urbana community.”
4) How did your experiences at the University of Illinois School of Social Work help prepare you for your career?
“Being an older student and a once a part of the population that I would be working with, the U of I enhanced those skills learned and helped me incorporate the skills learned into practice.”
5) In your experiences, working with ILLINOIS Social Work interns, how have our students made a difference?
“Student interns from the School of Social Work as well as other departments at the U of I have been engaged in developing programs and projects that FACC continues to use in serving clients. Examples: developing curriculum (grad students), developing an intern handbook & manual (undergrads), updating our resource guide for the C-U area (grad students), developing an evaluation tool to be used by clients (undergrad), and developing a grant portfolio of grants available to social service agencies/programs (grad student).”
6) What accomplishment are you most proud of?
“The accomplishment I am most proud of is working closely with the community, courts, and other service providers in making FACC a viable and highly sought out resource in the community. Prior to my taking on the Executive Director position, FACC was having a difficult time in networking with other service providers. However, FACC is now recognized and services have proven to be beneficial to clients served.”
Grace received the Outstanding Field Instructor award from the University of Illinois School of Social Work in 2016.
In April, 2017, she received the “Heart of Gold” award from the Community Foundation of East Central Illinois.
“Grace has been an invaluable Field Instructor for both BSW and MSW students at the School of Social Work. She demonstrates the values at the very core of social work and is a tireless advocate for children and families. Under her guidance and encouragement, students flourish and develop into confident and competent social workers.” -Mary Maurer, LCSW, Assistant Dean for Field Education, Director MSW Field Education, Clinical Associate Professor
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