Bookending a generous gift of support that launched the Mary Baldwin social work program, the family of one alumna is now endowing that program to ensure its success for years to come.
Now recognized as the Susan Warfield Caples Department of Social Work, the program has educated and empowered dozens of social workers since its creation in 2007.
“It’s a huge deal to me and to the students,” said Mary Clay Thomas, associate professor of social work and head of the department. “I have to say the night we honored Sue Caples [in October] was probably the best of my career at Mary Baldwin.”
That night, students shared with the Caples family what the social work program has meant to them, what new initiatives have been developed over recent years, and what success they have achieved as a result of their hard work and guidance from top-notch faculty.
Since the program’s inception, students have established the now-thriving Social Work Club to engage all students with community organizations; 10 students have traveled to Honduras for an international field placement; student Tierra Smith ’12 established Phi Alpha, the social work honor society; the department established an advisory board comprised of local social workers; there have been numerous events held in collaboration with other Virginia universities; faculty have established an annual faculty retreat; and students have traveled to Haiti for a spring break mission trip.
For the past two years, one of the advisory board members worked with a local Kiwanis club to raise enough funds to support each social work senior to attend Rally in the Valley, a regional social work conference for college students. Social work scholars recently worked with Associate Professor of Art Marlena Hobson and Artist-in-Residence Claudia Bernardi to create a mural with undocumented youngsters at the Shenandoah Valley Juvenile Center. And the department has established a thriving social work month to promote the program each March.
Another highlight occurred last spring when senior Kiera Kimp organized a free HIV testing day on the Mary Baldwin campus. The effort resulted in 100 students getting tested, more than at any other college campus in Virginia. Kimp went on to earn the inaugural Jane Addams Field Work Award at Honors Convocation.
The Caples’ gift also establishes a scholarship for a student in the college for women with demonstrated financial need who is enrolled in the social work program and maintains a 3.0 grade point average in that major.
“She just loves Mary Baldwin. I’ve heard her say many times that Mary Baldwin is the best thing that’s ever happened to her,” said Rob Caples of his wife Susan Caples ’60, whose passion helped bring the social work program to the university. “She always liked social work; she’s just a wonderful person who loves people.”
After raising three sons, Sue Caples returned to school to earn her master of social work from Fordham University and eventually pursued a career as a medical social worker. All the while, Sue served Mary Baldwin in leadership positions including on the Alumnae/i Board and the Board of Trustees.
During Sue’s tenure on the Board, Rob Caples said, she talked with President Pamela Fox about establishing a social work program at Mary Baldwin. And in 2007, the Capleses — who have been lifelong donors to the college — made the lead gift in creating the program.