WellLife Celebrates Women’s History Month and National Social Work Month

March is Women’s History Month. It is also National Social Work Month. WellLife is proud of all of our staff, but we pay special tribute to our social workers who help the people who come to our doors solve and cope with problems in their everyday lives. WellLife’s team of social workers confront some of the most challenging issues facing communities and society and forge solutions that help people reach their full potential.


To honor National Women’s History Month and National Social Work Month, we reflect on the life of Dr. Antonia Pantoja, a Latina social worker who, prior to her passing in 2012, was regarded as one of the most important leaders in the United States.


Antonia Pantoja was born in San Juan, Puerto Rico in 1922. She moved to New York City in 1944 where she studied sociology at Hunter College before obtaining her master’s degree from the Columbia University School of Social Work. In 1973, she received a Ph.D. from Union Graduate School. Shortly after, she joined the faculty of the School of Social Work at San Diego State University where she founded the Graduate School of Community Development, an institution that serves communities and neighborhoods throughout the nation.


During her career, Dr. Pantoja was involved in a variety of community and professional organizations, all working toward the goal of building stronger communities for marginalized people. These included the Ford Foundation, the National Urban Coalition, the Museo del Barrio, the National Association of Social Workers, the Council on Social Work Education, to name a few. 


Dr. Pantoja was a charismatic and visionary leader. In 1997 she received the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian honor, from President Clinton during a ceremony at the White House. In his speech, President Clinton praised her work as founder of ASPIRA, an organization that promotes cultural pride, education, leadership training and community service for Latino youth. He also recognized her role in founding the National Puerto Rico Forum and Boricua College.


“Peace and respect – these are the values that define the work of Antonia Pantoja” Clinton said in presenting the award. “Her contributions to her people and, therefore, our country are unsurpassed,” he added, calling Pantoja “the most respected and loved member of the Puerto Rican community.” “The impact of her work and her contributions to our community has had reverberations so profound and so broad that for generations to come, she will continue to be an inspiration for young Puerto Ricans,” declared then NASW Executive Director Josephine Nieves at a reception following the presentation.


We thank Dr. Pantoja who serves as an inspiration and all of WellLife’s social workers for the outstanding job they perform each and every day to help individuals and families achieve their life’s goals of health and wellness for life.

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