The Mutual Aid Collective
Exploring the Intersections of Social Work and Collective Care
The University of Denver Graduate School of Social Work (GSSW) is committed to nurturing thriving, sustainable communities that embody equity. That commitment is expressed throughout our teaching, research and public engagement activities. At the same time, we recognize that social work doesn’t hold all the answers — that we can and must learn from and alongside the community to advance knowledge and transform social work practice. Through the new Mutual Aid Collective, we are partnering with the community to explore the intersections of social work and collective care — to imagine and create a future where all people have their needs met.
“Mutual aid involves neighbors helping neighbors, supporting one another in meeting basic needs. It also involves a reimagining of the social fabric where we see ourselves in solidarity with others—where meeting someone’s needs is meeting our collective needs.”Kimberly Bender
Winn Professor for Children & Youth
A Response to System Failures
Complex crises such as climate change, the COVID-19 pandemic and widespread systemic racism have highlighted the inadequacies of nonprofit and governmental social support systems, which have failed to meet the needs of the most vulnerable and marginalized people. When systems fail, communities often fill the gap through the longstanding practice of mutual aid. Social work can learn from this practice of collective care, which improves individual and community well-being.
Comprised of faculty, staff, doctoral students, MSW students and alumni working alongside community partners, the Mutual Aid Collective is exploring the future of collective care and social work.
Mutual Aid Fellows
MSW students conduct their field internships in mutual aid spaces and meet weekly in a seminar to contemplate the intersections and divergences between mutual aid and social work.
Informed by mutual aid organizers from across Colorado, the collaborative is seeking to better understand mutual aid values and practices and explore how mutual aid approaches challenge and could potentially improve social work’s approach to care.
Our Community Partners
Mutual Aid Fellows are embedded in community organizations, where the fellows complete field internships.
Located in Denver’s Westwood neighborhood, Lifespan Local is a community center focused on well-being across the lifespan. It meets community needs in areas such as parent education, workforce development, food justice, arts and technology.
Founded by GSSW alumna Renata Heberton, MSW ’10, Angelica Village is a conscious community living space for individuals and families seeking refuge from war or exiting homelessness.
Mutual Aid Monday
Mutual Aid Monday is a grassroots mutual aid community that cares for people experiencing homelessness in Denver. Projects include a free weekly community meal and providing street outreach and support to unhoused community members.
Collective Core Values
In alignment with the tenets of mutual aid, the work of the collective is organized around several core beliefs:
- Everyone has needs and everyone has resources to contribute.
- Everyone deserves to have their needs met.
- We are all interconnected.
- Those with shared lived experiences often know best how to meet one another’s needs.
- We must unlearn individualistic norms of white supremacy culture and capitalism to have equity and wellness.
- A future of collective care must be community-led, mutual, reciprocal, equitable and intentional about hierarchy and power.
- Working outside of, dismantling and replacing existing systems is often necessary to meet needs.
Support Collective Care in Social Work
Your financial support of the Mutual Aid Collective advances social work education and practice and the work of our partners in the community.
Increase Capacity + Equity
Support for MSW student stipends increases the capacity of the community organizations where Mutual Aid Fellows serve. It also ensures equity in social work education, making fellowship participation possible for students who cannot afford an unpaid internship.
Funding for research helps advance understanding of how social work can adapt to better support care in communities by integrating mutual aid values and practices.
Operational support helps to fund administrative costs related to coordination of field internships and community partnerships, evaluation of the collective’s work, and dissemination of the knowledge it generates.
Stories About Our Work
Social Work and Mutual Aid
A GSSW research team is studying the ways that mutual aid has been meeting Colorado community needs during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Mutual Aid Collective
Through the Mutual Aid Collective, GSSW faculty, staff, students, alumni and community partners are exploring the intersections of social work and collective care.
Reimagining the Future of Social Work
Led by alumna Laura Nissen, GSSW Health Futures Fellows are applying futures thinking and foresight practice to advance social justice, equity and well-being for humans and the planet.