The following is taken from the Spring 1992 edition of SSA Magazine.
Established in 1992 to recognize the contributions of recent graduates to the field of social work, the first Elizabeth Butler Award has been presented to Karen Graham, AM ’82.
Graham was nominated by Thomas F. Witheridge, her supervisor at Thresholds-Bridge, a branch of Thresholds, a community mental health organization that provides services throughout Chicago. Witheridge commended Graham for her devotion to the improvement of services for deaf persons with major mental illnesses and credits her for the fact that “Illinois can now point with pride to its comprehensive, nationally known, and award-winning program for deaf mental health consumers in the Chicago area.”
Graham’s considerable abilities in supervision, evaluation, needs assessment, and advocacy proved indispensible in implementing and designing the Thresholds Bridge for the Hearing Impaired program in 1984. Under her leadership, the agency’s program has grown to be the largest community mental health program for deaf consumers in the country, with an annual budget of $1.3 million. The program, which is unique in Illinois, now includes two assertive community treatment teams, three group homes, vocational and social rehabilitation services, basic education and life-skills training, psychiatric care, collaboration with a state hospital and several private agencies, and advocacy services.
As an advocate, Graham has been involved in numerous efforts. In 1988, she was asked to serve as the first statewide coordinator of mental health services for deaf consumers. This position was established in response to Graham’s and other advocates’ successful lobbying to improve and coordinate services for deaf consumers statewide. She also led a task force on accessibility of chemical dependency treatment available for deaf persons, which resulted in a legislated mandate for residential treatment and funds for sign language interpreters.
Well respected in her field, Graham has been recognized by numerous groups. In 1988, she received the August W. Christmann Award for Education, Public Awareness, or Removal of Attitudinal Barriers given by the Chicago Department on Aging and Disability and was named one of Ten Outstanding Young Citizens by the Chicago Jaycees. She was named one of 100 Women to Watch by Today’s Chicago Woman in 1989.