School of Social Work

No. 28 M.S.W. Program in the U.S.

Goal: $2.25 million. Achieved: $3.2 million (142% of goal). $1.05 million endowment dollars raised. 17 planned gifts totaling over $1.8 million. 20 major gifts totaling over $1,978,000. 1938 households contributed to the campaign totaling $3,203,108. 318 scholarships awarded. Over $300,000 awarded to students since 2013. 1,368 alumni gave over $2.5 million (80% of total raised). Rodney the Ram head.

Sherry Peterson (M.S.W.’73/SW) knew what a successful fundraising campaign looked like. Katharine Webb (M.S.W.’73/SW) was as connected an alumna as you could hope to find.

Together, the VCU School of Social Work classmates – along with Sherry’s husband and fellow classmate, Bill (M.S.W.’73/SW) –  formed the perfect team, serving as volunteer chairs for the school’s fundraising efforts during VCU’s eight-year Make It Real Campaign, which concluded in June 2020. It was the natural evolution of their longtime commitment as scholarship donors.

The school surpassed its campaign goal with gifts and commitments totaling $3.2 million.

“Having worked as a fundraiser for nonprofits, it’s a great feeling when a campaign or event meets or exceeds its goal,” says Sherry, whose social work career led to development positions at Children’s Home Society, Saint Gertrude High School and the Alzheimer’s Association Greater Richmond Chapter. “I am just happy to have been able to help in some small way.

“It has also been great hooking up with Katie again.”

That was non-negotiable, Webb says. “I agreed to do it as long as Sherry was co-chair. It was a wonderful opportunity for increasing my connection with Sherry and Bill. They are fun to work with. I caught up with old classmates, and that was great. Sherry was very involved in our class from the very beginning.

“I think we really served as a strong sounding board, suggesting alumni or friends who could potentially be involved with this school as contributors, financially and otherwise. Sherry and I spoke at a few alumni and networking events: ‘Remember, we have a campaign going on. Remember how important scholarships are to the School of Social Work. Please remember as you consider giving a potential gift.’ ”

Webb’s connection goes back to her time on a school advisory council under former deans Grace Harris, Ph.D., and Frank Baskind, Ph.D., and her service on the VCU Foundation board of trustees. Then-dean Jim Hinterlong, Ph.D., asked Webb to help chair Make It Real.

“My heart has been with this school as a volunteer in a number of different capacities. So the Make It Real ask was a pretty easy one. I’m an experienced volunteer, not that it’s necessarily worth a whole lot,” Webb says with a laugh. 

From left, alumna Katharine Webb (M.S.W.’73/SW); School of Social Work Dean Beth Angell, Ph.D.; and alumna Sherry Peterson (M.S.W.’73/SW).

Not so, says the school’s current dean, Beth Angell, Ph.D. “All schools should be as lucky as ours is in having two alumni so skilled in mobilizing support who communicate with authenticity about the School’s contributions and value to shepherd our giving campaign! Both Katie and Sherry paid forward the education they received at VCU with the generous gift of their talents and time. We are so grateful to them both.”

Both Petersons served as president of the school’s alumni group. They endowed and continue to contribute to a scholarship based on their commitment to the field of aging – Bill spent 30 years at the agency now known as the Virginia Department for Aging and Rehabilitative Services.

“We  know that more social workers will be needed in that field,” Sherry says. “I’ve stayed involved with the school because I feel positive about the education I received. While at Children’s Home Society I had several students – and Bill had students at the Department for the Aging – and we felt positive about the students and the education they were receiving. We both also hired graduates and had good experiences.”

“I think social workers are givers, whether they give their time, their talent or their resources to good things. And scholarships are good things.”

Webb endowed an undergraduate scholarship before the Make It Real Campaign, and has continued to support it over the years. “My goal is to increase the scholarship,” she says. 

Just as Sherry Peterson’s career detoured from social work into fundraising, Webb focused on community organization and social planning as a student but started her career in casework, became a healthcare policy analyst and, finally, directed a government relations program for a healthcare trade association.

“The School of Social Work was founded, back in the day (1917), when women really didn’t have a whole lot of career options, but social work was one of them,” Webb says. “I think that is something to celebrate. It did provide an educational opportunity for women and then a career opportunity on top of that. I think social workers are givers, whether they give their time, their talent or their resources to good things. And scholarships are good things.

“I feel like the School of Social Work, as well as my undergraduate program, gave me the foundation to develop a career path. And I felt like I used my social work skills in my work. I am always grateful for the opportunities that provided, and it made it an easy sell for me to start the scholarship.”

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