Kearney’s Dawn Darling wins Social Worker of the Year award – Kearney Hub

Posted: October 4, 2019 at 9:44 am

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KEARNEY Dawn Darling, a licensed social worker, didnt know she was doing groundbreaking work when she first reached out to the LGBTQ community, a population she believed was overlooked.

I realized there were no mental health or medical resources for them. Previously, they had to drive to Lincoln and Omaha for services. As I began learning more about transgender people and issues, I knew I needed to do something for them, she said.

For that work, Darling has been named the 2019 Social Worker of the Year by the Nebraska chapter of the National Association of Social Workers.

Darling, who works at Kearney Counseling Associates, 2811 W. 30th St., began focusing on the transgender community after counseling her first transgender client five years ago.

LGBTQ is a marginalized community that struggles with housing, employment and transgender issues, she said. I wanted to be a mental health resource in a safe and affirmative place.

In 2015, she launched Chameleons, a private support group for the LGBTQ community. Its Facebook site has 53 members, and its monthly support group draws about eight to 10 people ranging in age from their 20s to their 50s.

They love it. Theyre thrilled, Darling said. Its a good way for them to meet each other and support each other. Before, this was a very underground community. People found out about it through word of mouth. This is an organized, safe way to get together.

Darling, a native of Gering, raised four children before returning to school to earn two degrees in social work a bachelors degree from the University of Nebraska at Kearney in 2010 and a masters degree from the University of Nebraska at Omaha in 2014.

Now, based in Kearney, she works with people from Kearney, Hastings, Grand Island, Broken Bow, Holdrege and other regional communities.

A lot of my work involves getting people to accept their own identity, clarify it and figure out how they want to come out to people. We also discuss medical assistance, hormones, future surgery and how to change their name and documents such as their drivers license. We also discuss how to cope with negative attitudes, Darling said.

One client who had transgender surgery adopted Dawn as her middle name in gratitude for the support Darling provided.

Theyve been very accepting of me. They welcomed me into their community, but I worked at coming in with an attitude of acceptance to be able to work with them. They really appreciate it, she said.

Darling, who also works with families and at-risk youths, was nominated for the award by Jamie Reich, who works for the Nebraska Childrens Home Society in Kearney.

Reich, also a social worker, is a past NASW board member. She wanted to recognize Darling for taking risks to promote social justice and human rights in central Nebraska.

(Darling) has increased awareness of issues facing the LGBTQ community and offers a safe space to individuals who seek acceptance in a rural area. She has become a leader in the community on these issues, Reich said.

Darling said she was drawn to the LGBTQ community because of how discriminated they are. I had compassion for them. They are marginalized. They dont have protections against discrimination, or legal resources. I wanted to do my part to make them feel better about themselves and live in a safe society.

Darling said she hasnt heard of any outward discrimination of LGBTQ people in Kearney. It might happen behind peoples backs, but people still seem to be fairly accepting, she said.

She remains humbled by the award. I read that letter telling me Id receive it. Then I read it again. I wondered, are there several people getting this award in Nebraska? No. It was just me, she said. I know Ive done what I can for the transgender community, but I dont feel like Ive done enough.

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Kearney's Dawn Darling wins Social Worker of the Year award - Kearney Hub

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October 4th, 2019 at 9:44 am

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