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An award for making connections: Social worker at Lebanon’s LISTEN wins statewide award

  • Programs director Angela Zhang, right, talks to Harry, who declined to give his last name, one of her regular clients, in her office at the Listen Community Services administrative building in Lebanon, N.H., on Monday, May 9, 2022. Zhang was named Social Worker of the Year for 2021 by the National Association of Social Workers, New Hampshire chapter. (Valley News / Report For America - Alex Driehaus) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. Valley News / Report For America photographs — Alex Driehaus

  • Programs director Angela Zhang at the Listen Community Services administrative building in Lebanon, N.H., on Monday, May 9, 2022. (Valley News / Report For America - Alex Driehaus) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

Valley News Correspondent 
Published: 5/16/2022 9:50:40 PM
Modified: 5/16/2022 9:48:53 PM

LEBANON —  Angela Zhang, who oversees programs for LISTEN Community Services, including the food pantry, community dinners, heating services and housing services, has been named social worker of the year by the New Hampshire Chapter of the National Association of Social Workers.

April Mariska, the member of the NASW-NH Board of Directors who nominated Zhang for this award, said she is truly “a rockstar.”

“She embodies what we think of as social work. She’s on the frontlines advocating for some of our most underserved populations. She is so passionate and confident in what she does, it is contagious.”  

Lynn Stanley, executive director of the National Association of Social Workers New Hampshire Chapter, said Zhang helps connect social workers around the state: “Angela is one of my go-to people. She is so knowledgeable, and because of her position with LISTEN she is very connected to people, especially in the Upper Valley region, and about issues regarding services and resources.”

Zhang, of Lebanon, first came to the Upper Valley from Virginia as an undergraduate student at Dartmouth College.

“I completely fell in love with the Upper Valley,” she said. “I think there was a part of me that always wanted to move to New England.”

Zhang stayed in the area after completing her degree in 2012 and began working for the college in student affairs. It was at this time that Zhang found her passion for social work while volunteering as an after-hours crisis advocate for WISE.

“That really got me connected to the Upper Valley community as a whole and sparked my interest in social work,” Zhang said. 

She pursued a master’s degree in social work remotely through Portland, Maine’s University of New England. Zhang interned with LISTEN during her graduate program.

Zhang said she is particularly proud of LISTEN’s independent revenue streams through its thrift stores, which allow the organization to remain flexible in how and who it serves. This flexibility has allowed LISTEN to double the number of people it serves up to more than 4,000 across the region since Zhang’s time at LISTEN began in 2017.

“This organization has grown and changed so much in basically every respect that I’m really proud of,” she said. “We’ve really done a lot of work to integrate ourselves into the community.”

Zhang co-founded the BIPOC Social Workers of Northern New England. Before she co-founded the group, Zhang said that she knew only a few social workers across New Hampshire who were Black, Indigenous or people of color; now the group is over 70-strong across New Hampshire, Maine and Vermont.

“It’s been incredible for community building and to have spaces to network and increase visibility both for social workers and for our community,” Zhang said. 

Kyle Fisher, executive director at LISTEN, said the agency’s clients love working with Zhang.

“She actively listens to them, gives them the time they deserve, and works tirelessly to solve their problems,” Fisher said.

Zhang received notification of her award earlier this year.

“It was definitely a surprise,” she said, “I’m the kind of person who doesn’t love the spotlight so it’s been an adjustment, but I’m very honored and humbled to be receiving the award.”

Zhang also is a board member and after-hours crisis line volunteer for WISE, a board member of Twin Pines Housing and a lecturer at Plymouth State University

LISTEN has begun to take on more students and interns from PSU’s Social Work program.

“It’s been really important to me in my career to train the next generation of leaders, and it helps me think about my work a little differently, too,” Zhang said. “It’s not just about what I’m doing now, but setting up a pipeline for the next people to step in.”

Molly Shimko can be reached at mollydshimko@gmail.com.


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