MSW students promote social change

Students in York’s Master of Social Work Program are engaged in innovative and cutting-edge research that is affecting both local and international communities. They’re bridging theory with practice by engaging first-hand in community partnerships and programs, and using their academic knowledge and skills to contribute significantly to contemporary social work scholarship.

Left: Zorana Alimpic

The diverse array of projects include: a theatre program for refugee youth who are survivors of political violence; a sexual health education program for young people in Nigeria; a project that explores the difficulty hospices face when trying to ensure that all communities understand and have access to palliative care services; and a diversity awareness initiative for community social service agencies.

Zorana Alimpic, enrolled in the MSW program and the Refugee & Migration Studies certificate program, is developing a Forum Theatre program for refugee youth survivors of political violence and trauma. She works as a program evaluator on two youth projects in Brampton, one of which–Youth Educating Against Hate (YEAH!)–she developed and initiated with the support of the community. Currently, Alimpic is pursuing a placement at World Vision, where she will have the opportunity to do frontline settlement work at their refugee shelter, as well as policy analysis on issues affecting children living in armed conflict. (For more on Alimpic’s experiences see the January 2008 issue of Atkinson Beat.)

Right: Petra Okeke

Petra Okeke is conducting a four month internship in Nigeria with Action Health International, an agency offering sexual health education for youth between the ages of 12-16. Her research aims to bring to the forefront the voices of youth living with HIV/AIDS. Okeke hopes to expose their struggles and uncover what being infected means to them. She plans to pursue a PhD in Social Work with a specific focus on engaging and mobilizing youth. She also hopes to work with minority youth to develop “youth powered” mentorship and after school support centres. Follow Okeke on her powerful journey in Nigeria by visiting her blog

Left: Annalise Stenekes

Annalise Stenekes, a 2005 graduate of York’s BSW program and Certificate in Dispute Resolution, focuses her research on Hospices. Her interest in the field grew while working as a volunteer for a community agency that provides supportive housing opportunities for individuals living with HIV. Stenekes was affected by issues of marginalization and noticed a growing prevalence of discrimination against the ill. Currently, she is exploring issues of ethno-cultural diversity and the difficulties Hospices face when trying to ensure that their programs are accessible to all people in their catchment area. Stenekes will examine 10 Toronto and GTA Hospices regarding their policies and initiatives in response to ethno-cultural diversity. She hopes to make a direct impact on issues of health care disparity and lack of community care for elder persons and those living with life-threatening illness. Stenekes is one of the first researchers to focus on this phenomenon from a Canadian context.

Right: Marianne Breadner

“York’s School of Social Work gives students a chance to deepen their understanding of how oppression affects individuals both in their daily lives and in their receipt of social work services,” said Stenekes. “The program doesn’t let us just passively accept that what we are taught, or the way the world operates, is inherently good or correct. It challenges us to recognize and exercise our abilities to question, to reflect and to grow.”

Alumna Marianne Breadner (BSW ’05, MSW ’07) never anticipated the impact her research would have on the community. Breadner completed her practicum at Dufferin Child & Family Services (DCAFS), developing a diversity awareness initiative for the agency and exploring which community partners would be interested in training and networking linked to this issue. Response from the community was overwhelming. The DCAFS had 55 community partners attend a panel on diversity awareness in May. It became apparent that the work Breadner started needed to be continued beyond her placement. As a result, DCAFS received a grant worth $78,200 from the Trillium Foundation to hire a part-time Diversity Coordinator/Educator for two-years. Breadner continues to work with the agency in the area of Children’s Mental Health.

Left: Narda Razack

“Our MSW curriculum prepares future social workers for academic and community positions; and our students are connected with research and learning opportunities that often lead to meaningful social change” said Narda Razack, graduate program director. “We are proud of our students’ ongoing commitment to leadership and issues of equality; they are active and engaged not only in their local communities but internationally as well.”

For more information on the innovative research projects York’s MSW students are engaged in, contact the School of Social Work at 416-736-5226 or

Visit the MSW Program Web site to learn more about the program.