School of Social Work

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

Uncommon Alumni. Unlimited Impact. VCU School of Social Work. Two people standing and talking.

The VCU School of Social Work is celebrating our uncommon alumni, and their unlimited impact, with three events during Social Work Month in March.

Graduates of the school are an integral part of a community that is making a difference in Richmond and beyond. This month — and every month — the school is proud to recognize their commitment.

Alumni, please consider nominating yourself or a fellow graduate in our alumni spotlight, which will be shared on social media throughout the month. (Students may also nominate their favorite social worker by Friday, Feb. 16.)

Coffee & Conversation

8-10 a.m. Thursday, March 7
Buna Kurs Ethiopian Cafe, 402½ N. 2nd St., Richmond
Connect with SSW alumni, faculty and Interim Dean Gary S. Cuddeback, Ph.D., over complimentary coffee, tea and refreshments at a VCU alum-owned business.

Beyond the Micro: Myth, Realities and Opportunities in Macro Social Work

6-7:15 p.m. ET Tuesday, March 19

Hear from five alumni – Allison Gilbreath (B.S.’11; M.S.W.’16), Rachael Randall (M.S.W.’19), Lourdes Sandoval (M.S.W.’23), Chrissy Wengloski (M.S.W.’17) and Alexa Zafarana (M.S.W.’18) – about how their field experiences have impacted their career trajectory. Learn more about the five below.

Social Work, Policy & Politics

5-7 p.m. ET Thursday, March 28
Health Hub at 25th and Zoom

The school’s annual signature event will feature an in-depth panel discussion addressing social disparities of health through the political and policy arena, viewed through a social work lens. Learn more below about alumni panelists Patricia Evelyn Green (M.S.W.’74), Fred Karnas (M.S.W.’76, Cert.’79) and Karen Kimsey (M.S.W.’96; Cert.’96), and about moderator and alum Jackie Lawrence (B.S.W.’16; M.S.W.’17).

Event panelist bios (Beyond the Micro)

Allison Gilbreath

Headshot of Allison Gilbreath
Allison Gilbreath

Allison Gilbreath is the senior director of policy and programs at Voices for Virginia’s Children. She leads the organization’s child welfare policy work as well as the implementation of advocacy programs, elevating policy conversations across all policy areas. Allison created Voices’ foster care policy network, a group comprised of partners, direct service providers, families and youth who create a foster care unified agenda each year. She also helped to create the first-ever bi-partisan foster care caucus with the Virginia General Assembly.

Together, with the network and foster care caucus, she successfully led the charge in creating the kinship financial assistance program during the 2020 General Assembly session. Allison came to Voices after several years of working on behalf of children and families, most recently at Prevent Child Abuse Virginia. She was included on Style Weekly’s 40 under 40 in 2019 and has presented at several national and state conferences.She earned her Bachelor of Science and Master of Social Work degrees from Virginia Commonwealth University, and completed the Sorensen Institute for Political Leadership in 2016. She is the board president of Collective 365, an organization founded to support Black and Brown communities through philanthropic giving and capacity building.

Rachael Randall

Headshot of Rachael Randall
Rachael Randall

Rachael Randall grew up in Omaha, Nebraska, as a “perk” of being in a military family. Rachael received a Bachelor of Arts in psychology from the University of Nebraska-Omaha in 2013 and began working with youth and families in mental health. In 2014, Rachael moved to Richmond to spend time with her family and experience something new. In 2019, Rachael received a Master of Social Work from VCU, igniting a passion in social change, organization development and community building.

As a Black woman, social worker and healer, led by a value of community, Rachael has committed herself to making space for well-being and transformation of all shapes and sizes. As a consultant at The Spark Mill, Rachael upholds her integrity by supporting people and organizations in dreaming of viable futures and embracing structures and policies that maximize impact without burning people out. With superpowers in facilitation and community engagement, Rachael is passionate about working with teams, collaboratives, coalitions, movements and system builders to share ideas, tools and possibilities.

Lourdes Sandoval

Headshot of Lourdes Sandoval
Lourdes Sandoval

Lourdes Sandoval is currently the senior case manager for The Border is Everywhere (TBIE) at Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Arlington, Virginia. In this position, Lourdes provides trauma-informed care and support services to individuals and/or families who have crossed the Mexican/U.S. border and are seeking asylum. With over five years of experience in resettlement, Lourdes is passionate about serving others and empowering individuals, especially refugees and asylum seekers.

Before being promoted to senior case manager for TBIE, Lourdes worked numerous roles within the agency as a refugee health education and outreach liaison, case manager, data and finance specialist, site supervisor and senior accounting coordinator over five years. She received her Master of Social Work with a concentration in clinical practice from Virginia Commonwealth University after earning a Bachelor of Science in public health with a minor in human services (emphasis in community and population health) from West Virginia University.

Chrissy Wengloski

Chrissy Wengloski

Chrissy currently serves as the principal budget and policy analyst for public safety with the City of Richmond Department of Budget and Strategic Planning. In this role, she focuses on improving efficiency and effectiveness in the city’s public safety departments, including police, fire and justice services. She uses her social work background to ensure the city’s policies and programs serve all of Richmond’s diverse citizenry. 

Chrissy’s prior experience includes administering victim services grants during her time at the Virginia Department of Criminal Justice Services, as well as grant management for YWCA Richmond, a domestic and sexual violence nonprofit. Chrissy received her Bachelor of Arts in journalism from the University of Richmond, followed by her Master of Social Work and a post-baccalaureate certificate in gender violence intervention from Virginia Commonwealth University.

She is currently a doctoral candidate in VCU’s Wilder School of Government and Public Affairs, pursuing a Ph.D. in public policy and administration with a concentration in criminal justice policy. Her dissertation research is around law enforcement collaboration with services for victims of crime.

Alexa Zafarana

Headshot of Alexa Zafarana
Alexa Zafarana

Alexa Zafarana was formally trained as a macro level social worker and practitioner, but utilizes her experience as a coach and mentor in various roles. She has a passion for equipping individuals, families, groups and organizations to flourish. She does this by providing others with practical tools and daily rhythms that create long lasting change. 

Alexa works collaboratively with teams to plan, build, and assess sustainable systems and programs that support the goal to flourish. She is able to identify and capitalize on team member’s strengths and help identify places for them to thrive. 

With 10+ years of experience in education, nonprofit management, foster care, higher education, after school programming, residential and ministry settings, Alexa brings a diverse and holistic viewpoint to her work. She presents and facilitates trainings on topics such as self care, wellness, trauma and resiliency. 

Event panelist bios (Social Work, Policy and Politics)

Patricia Evelyn Green

Headshot of Patricia Evelyn Green
Patricia Evelyn Green

Patricia Evelyn Green, M.S.W., MSPR, founded The Patricia Green Group, a public relations agency based in Adams County, Pennsylvania. Patricia is an award-winning public relations expert whose work reflects communications strategies for a changing world. Her unique approach appeals to diverse segments, from business, government and nonprofit leaders to the under-served, from high profile to global audiences. Patricia integrates social work community organization strategies with public relations, notably through stakeholder engagement critical to health disparities.

Among her many achievements, Patricia received a First Place Matrix Award in the annual report category from Women in Communications. The European Federation of Black Women Business Owners presented her with the President’s Award. PR NEWS ranked Patricia among the top 50 game-changers in public relations. She holds a B.A. from Virginia Union University, an M.S.W. from Virginia Commonwealth University and a Master of Public Relations from American University.

Patricia is a member of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority. She is also a member of the Gettysburg Hospital Foundation Board, the WellSpan Western Region Board of Directors and the Adams County Community Foundation Board. Patricia was born and raised in Richmond, Virginia.

Fred Karnas

Fred Karnas

Fred Karnas has been a social justice advocate for over four decades. He has concentrated his efforts on the inequities that drive homelessness, ageism and ableism. His work in government, philanthropy and the non-profit sector has focused on the intersection of housing, health and human services. 

Fred began his work on homelessness in the early 1980s as a direct service provider. In 1990, Fred was tapped to serve as the executive director of the National Coalition for the Homeless, a Washington, D.C.- based grassroots advocacy organization. He later joined the Clinton administration at the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), initially as the first director of the Office of AIDS Housing and later as Deputy Assistant Secretary overseeing all of HUD’s homelessness assistance and HIV/AIDS housing programs across the nation. During that time, he concurrently served as the executive director of what is now called the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness, a White House Domestic Policy Council entity responsible for coordinating the homelessness assistance work of nineteen federal agencies.

After the Clinton administration, Fred served as the director of the Arizona Department of Housing and the Arizona Housing Finance Authority. In 2011, President Obama appointed Fred to the role of senior adviser to the HUD secretary, where he served as HUD’s liaison to the Department of Health and Human Services. 

Over the past decade, most of Fred’s work has been focused on housing and health in the philanthropic sector. He has served as president and CEO of St. Luke’s Health Initiatives in Arizona and as a senior fellow at the Kresge Foundation and the Richmond Memorial Health Foundation. In 2021, he temporarily left the philanthropic sector after being asked by the Biden administration to join the Department of the Treasury and serve as a senior policy advisor for the Emergency Rental Assistance and Homeowner Assistance Fund.

Fred is currently the director of the Mental Health Strategic Impact Initiative (S2I), a national organization focused on informing the transformation of the mental health system. He also serves as strategic advisor to Senior Connections, a Richmond  nonprofit focused on guiding and providing a system of supports for older adults in the region.

Fred holds a bachelor’s degree in city planning from the University of Virginia School of Architecture, an M.S.W. and certificate in gerontology from Virginia Commonwealth University, and a Ph.D. from the College of Architecture and Urban Studies at Virginia Tech.

Karen Kimsey

Headshot of Karen Kimsey
Karen Kimsey

Karen Kimsey is an experienced leader with 30 years in Medicaid public health care policy, program operations and finance. Karen is the owner of Walela Health Consulting, LLC, which works with states and executive level clients across the country to provide solutions to complex health care issues.

Before creating her company, Karen served as the director of Virginia’s Medicaid and Child Health Insurance Programs, including the provision of primary, acute, behavioral health and long-term services to 2.1 million Virginians at an annual cost of $20 billion.

As director, Karen led the agency through the COVID pandemic, ensuring Virginians had critical access to health care. In other Medicaid leadership roles, she enhanced agency operational transparency, operationally led the creation of the Medicaid Expansion benefit for 700,0000 adults and led the integration of long-term and behavioral health services into managed care, including dually eligible individuals. Other notable accomplishments include the creation of an addiction and treatment benefit and the redesign of the state’s intellectual and developmental disabilities system. She also has extensive organizational change experience within state organizational systems with a special emphasis on diversity, equity and inclusion. 

Karen holds an M.S.W. and certificate in aging studies from Virginia Commonwealth University and a B.S.W. from James Madison University, and is Registered Yoga Teacher.

Jackie Lawrence

Jackie Lawrence

Jackie Lawrence is a macro social worker and public health professional. Her lived experience, the Richmond Association of Black Social Workers, her mentors, and the youth and families she’s worked alongside have shaped her into the authentic community healer she is today. Jackie is passionate about cultural trauma healing, family systems and community-led interventions that address systemic oppression and neighborhood violence.

Upon earning her bachelor’s and master’s degrees in social work from Virginia Commonwealth University she joined the Robert Wood Johnson Culture of Health leaders program, which helped her launch Healing Us, a community learning cohort to address collective trauma. Jackie has worked with youth and families as the center director for the 6 Points Innovation Center, the Department of Social Services Family Preservation Unit and array of community-based agencies via formal work and volunteering. 

She served as the Richmond Henrico Health Department’s population health manager and director of health equity during the height of the Covid 19 pandemic when racism was declared a public health crisis. In that role, she, alongside  directly impacted community members, created the design and launch of the city-funded but grassroots-led Trauma Healing Response Network to address gun violence.She is currently working as the Virginia Beach Public Health Department‘s community engagement manager. This year she is launching her  consultant agency, The LightWork, which is positioned to enhance organizational culture among community-facing agencies through education and professional development. Jackie embodies a never-ending commitment to creatively and radically removing barriers to health while increasing love and laughter in communities – especially where health burdens are the most intense.

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