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Great Blue Heron

Great blue herons are a common sight at Nahant Marsh.

If your image of a social worker begins and ends with someone who works with abused children or mentally challenged adults, then you haven't kept up.

Nowadays the profession also addresses broad issues affecting human welfare, including climate change.

That's "because without a healthy, living planet, we don't stand a chance to do the other things," said Chelsea Haley, who is working on her master's degree in social work at St. Ambrose University, Davenport.

As part of her course work, and to combat what she sees as apathy toward changing climate, Haley and fellow student Kate Morris are organizing a series of four seasonal "mindfulness" tours of Davenport's Nahant Marsh.

The goals are to restore a connection between people and nature, to make people's lives better for it, and to dispel the feeling of apathy or helplessness regarding environmental challenges through mindfulness.

The first tour will be 5:30-7 p.m. Thursday, April 13, beginning with a talk about environmental ethics by John Thompson, who teaches social work at St. Ambrose. This will be followed by an overview of the wetland in west Davenport by director Brian Ritter and then the tour that will focus not so much on the marsh itself, but the participants' reaction to it.

Morris explained that the reaction might be how one's feet feel on the ground, the sensations in one's body, what participants are thinking about, the way the air feels — "the physical and emotional response in your body in this one piece of Earth."

The aim is to create a mindful, intentional awareness drawing together both the rational and emotional sides of the brain into an overlap area called the "wise mind" that sees the value in both the rational and emotional, she said.

It is in this overlap space, Morris believes, that people will lose their apathy because they will see that the issue of climate change does not need to be avoided, that it is not too big to take on.

"A big piece of social work is to draw out people's power that they already have," she said.

After the tour there will be a discussion of ways people can address climate change personally and politically.

Social workers historically have advocated for social justice, but in 2015 the National Association of Social Workers, the governing body of the profession, also determined that social workers are ethically bound to practice environmental justice, Haley explained.

Morris wholeheartedly agrees with this larger call. "We are doing an injustice by stopping our work with people," she said.

"That is narrow-minded. It needs to be broadened to include the environment. That's really what I think it means to be a social worker."

 Adds Haley: "We need to step up as influencers, advocators, collaborators." 

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