Community Leaders Project Spring 2024 Recipients

The National Association of Social Workers Iowa Chapter (NASW IA) is proud to announce the five recipients of the Spring 2024 Community Leaders Project. The goal of this project is to amplify the voices of underrepresented and marginalized individuals in our community. We hope to help develop the next generation of public service leadership and create a more just, equitable and inclusive community. These five individuals, carefully selected by a committee of highly respected social workers in the community, are doing the work and advocating for change in the community. This award will support the students as they learn and grow throughout the semester. This program has been made possible through a grant from the Mid-Iowa Health Foundation.  


Kristina Seier  


Kristina Seier is a third year Master of Social Work Student at the University of Iowa Des Moines program. She is currently interning with the Blank Children's Hospital and is focused on systemic change with interests in grant writing, program evaluation, exploring avenues of advocacy, and child welfare. She is most looking forward to working alongside Blank's lobbyist, Chaney Yeast LISW, JD, at the upcoming legislative session to advocate for extending postpartum Medicaid and maintaining that children's mental health continues to be brought to the table as Iowa is looking to parse down government boards and commissions. If you happen to see her up at the Capitol, please stop and say hello! 

Kristina also works part-time with the Coalition for Families & Children Services in Iowa as the Child Welfare Provider Training Academy Operations Coordinator to organize trainings for their members' child welfare staff to best serve the families and youth of Iowa. In her free time, she enjoys being a first-time auntie, exploring outdoors and gardening, listening to audiobooks, visiting friends and family, and catering to every need of her two cats. 


Karla Vaquerano Willis 


Karla Vaquerano Willis has been serving the Des Moines Metro community since 2008.  She has worked in various social service roles before going back to school in 2022 to receive her master's in social work. In January of 2024 she begins her generalist practicum with ACEs 360 Iowa where she hopes to put her skills to good use by advocating for policy changes to improve Medicaid coverage for pregnant women. Karla lives in West Des Moines with two children and her husband, Anthony, pictured here.  


Jessica Burrell 


Jessica Burrell is in her final semester of the MSW program at the University of Iowa Des Moines location. Currently she is doing her advanced practicum engaging in organizational quality improvement work at the non-profit, EveryStep, her future aspirations for her social work career are to participate in macro-level roles in healthcare and to be a therapist. She is truly honored to be a recipient of the Community Leaders Project award! 


Sunny Duffney  


Sunny C. Duffney is originally from Spirit Lake, Iowa and is currently pursuing her Masters of Social Work degree at The University of Iowa, Des Moines Campus. Sunny has a great passion for the field of social work and feels honored that she gets to pursue such a purposeful career. Sunny started her education in Human Services at DMACC and then later transferred to Iowa State. Sunny received her Bachelor's Degree in Human Development and Family Studies with an emphasis in prevention, policy, and advocacy. She has worked with a variety of populations ranging from children with psychological differences to individuals who were facing incarceration. Sunny also mentors middle school students with unstable home lives and helps them navigate life and education simultaneously. Sunny has great interest in rural mental health policy and practices. She hopes to someday help expand mental health resources to rural community members through policy work and help bridge communication gaps between community members, social workers, and government agencies to better serve vulnerable populations. Sunny is in her second semester of her MSW and will be completing her generalist practicum for Governor Reynold's Office this spring. 


Ashley Johnson 


Ashley’s field placement at Ellipsis has allowed her opportunities to participate in senior team meetings, community collaborations, board meetings, strategic planning, and program development. Her non-paid internship at Ellipsis has been invaluable. It has allowed her to observe and learn, and they have generously provided her with opportunities for growth and development. She is sincerely thankful for the support that has enhanced her educational journey and allowed her to contribute meaningfully to the community. She is incredibly grateful for the scholarship she’s received from NASW-Iowa which will help cover childcare expenses and daily living costs during my field placement.