Everybody needs a hero. Especially when life throws us a challenge or we are faced with adversity, having a supporter, an advocate and a ‘super’ hero can help us discover our inner strength and resiliency.
John Vassello was determined to remind people that heroes come in many shapes and sizes. He set out on a mission to raise awareness about CCPA’s social work program, challenge mainstream misconceptions about the profession and introduce a new image: the social worker as super hero.
“Every super hero has their own origin story and so does every social worker,” says Vassello, associate director of field education and admissions for the Social Work Department. “There is always a particular and important reason that brought a social worker into the field – it’s not a profession you just go into.”
The idea was sparked from a classroom presentation Vassello did for the undergraduate SW 250 class to highlight the many parallel characteristics between social workers and super heroes: agency, leadership, courage and determination – to name a few.
The department then began exploring ways of how to bring this notion to life.
The result is the ‘The Social Justice League,’ a five-set collection of miniature action figures with matching trading cards. The Advocate, The Change Agent, The Clarifier, The Reframer and The Tuner each embody different traits and characteristics that illustrate the broad scope of the social work practice.
Vassello explains how the characters came into existence: “We wanted to come up with unique identities for each super hero that represented different areas of practice. We chose these superheroes because they are emblematic of the profession.”
Vassello and his team even took to the campus and local community for insight into the conception and design of the league’s leader: The Change Agent, whose secret identity is Leigh DerShip. People expressed that the action figure – made out of the foam material commonly used for stress objects – should mirror the realities and diversity of people in the field.
“It says a lot about what we are looking for in our social workers. We are looking for people who are diverse, who are excited about the profession and can practice on many layers.”
The Social Justice League has experienced a bandwagon effect; engaging current and prospective students, peer institutions and community partners to share the extraordinary powers of social workers through trading and gifting these actions figures.
The primarily word-of-mouth campaign, boosted by the department’s popular social media presence, has helped to sell thousands of school-branded merchandise to practitioners across the country.
According to Vassello, “the overwhelming response necessitated a conversation about what should we charge and where we should put the money toward.”
The department came to the consensus that any money raised through the superhero campaign would be used to support students directly in the form of scholarships/funding.
“This campaign embodies taking risks, the culture of community in the school, the support we have for one another and the willingness to put students first,” Vassello says.