SMYRNA — You’ve likely interacted with or at least been near the finished product of 2012 Delaware Social Worker of the Year’s efforts several times and never even noticed.
That’s because Dover resident Leona G. Minor is really good at her craft — changing behaviors of prison inmates who are 97 percent likely to be released into the everyday world at some point after incarceration.
Thanks to the effectiveness of her self-designed Options Program that’s focused on helping convicts understand the root of their issues and then control their thoughts before trouble arrives, hundreds of men have left the penal system with the ability to get a job, live within a community, interact with family and generally keep their lives on track.
Working as a Master Correctional Counselor with the James T. Vaughn Correctional Center, Ms. Minor was shown that not all offenders are incorrigible or incapable of existing in a society of law and boundaries.
“Most people believe when individuals are incarcerated that it’s the end for them,” said Ms. Minor, who has administered the nine-month program for approximately five years at clips of two hours per week.
“However, there’s so much they can learn and be exposed to during a time when they can potentially slow down their lives and analyze what has caused their problems. With a better understanding of the ‘why’ part of it, they can then address the opportunity of ‘how’ to make changes to avoid future mistakes.”
The Delaware chapter of the National Association of Social Workers saluted her work by making Ms. Minor the first from a state agency to capture top honors.
“Knowing that 97 percent of the individuals incarcerated in Delaware are going to be released truly shows the significance and importance of the work being done by Leona and all of the Department’s counselors and treatment services staff,” Department of Correction spokesman John R. Painter said.
DOC officials, who already awarded the 54-year-old with prestigious Golden Key nods in 2008 and 2011, were effusive in their praise when citing a wide range of contributions that Ms. Minor provides.
“Leona is an outstanding employee who understands the social part of social work,” JTVCC Warden Perry Phelps said. “The average citizen may not identify or recognize that correctional counselors are the social workers for those who have reached the deepest end of the treatment services spectrum.
“Ms. Minor often exceeds the established standards for her position.”
Both Warden Phelps and JTVCC Treatment Administrator Ron Hosterman pointed to Ms. Minor’s work with fledgling social workers through on-site supervisor duties during field training as benefiting generations to come.
“Leona has been appreciated not only for her counseling role, but also as someone who for years has been the on-site supervisor for Masters in Social Work interns from Delaware State University, an investment in the future that has helped to bring highly qualified candidates to eventual employment in Treatment Services at (JTVCC),” Mr. Hosterman said.
She returned the credit back to JTVCC administration, saying that none of the programs and initiatives could succeed without structural support from the DOC decision-makers.
“I’m always excited to come to work and work with good people,” said Ms. Minor, who also serves as an administrator for the Alcoholics Anonymous program. “I love my job. If I can help somebody who is not cognizant of what is wrong with him understand more, then I’ve had a fruitful day.
“My goal is to let them know that even though they find themselves in a bad current situation, it’s not the end for them.”
Originally from Liberia, Ms. Minor migrated to the United States due to her country’s civil war. While in West Africa, she received a Bachelor of Arts degree in Sociology/Management from the University of Liberia.
At Delaware State University, Ms. Minor earned a Master’s in Social Work degree. She studied and earned certificates from the Royal Institute of Public Administration in London, England, and the National Institute of Public Administration in Peshawar, Pakistan.
Mrs. Minor is married to the Rev. Dr. S. Alexander Minor and they have four children.
Vaughn workers honored
On March 21, JTVCC facility staff was presented with the Social Work Agency of the Year by the NASW’s Delaware chapter.
“The NASW Agency of the Year accolade is the chapter’s highest honor and it recognizes a human services organization that exhibits the values, ethics and principles of the NASW and the social work profession,” a press release said.
“Vaughn staff attains these standards through their overall support to the clients they serve with incarceration and rehabilitation programs that address societal and offender’s needs.”
JTVCC employees honored included Mr. Phelps, Mr. Hosterman, Ms. Minor, Cindy Atallian, Jessica Barton, Maleek Brown, Catherine Daramola, Daina Davis, Loretta Edwards, Kevin Fletcher, April Hall, Linwood Hancock, Stacey Hollis, Jayme Jackson, Linda Kemp, Natasha Knight, Patricia May, Michael McMahon, Claudette Pettyjohn, Ricky Porter Sr., Megan Radcliffe, Larry Savage, James Simms, Evelyn Stevenson, Stefanie Streets, LaTangia Sutton, Angela Williams and Tom Zanda.
The staff was also lauded for interacting with outside agencies such as the Department of Labor, Education, Health and Social Services, Delaware State Housing Authority, Connections and Delaware Center for Justice to assist in transitioning into re-entry into the community.
“Facility treatment staff empowers their clients by presenting treatment programs that prepare the clients to live well in the institution and in the community upon release,” said a NASW announcement of the award.
“These programs provide mental health treatment through psychotherapy, educational opportunities, vocational training, work assignments, spiritual/religious programs and a variety of other classes and programming.”