NASW Pioneers Biography Index

The National Association of Social Workers Foundation is pleased to present the NASW Social Work Pioneers®. NASW Pioneers are social workers who have explored new territories and built outposts for human services on many frontiers. Some are well known, while others are less famous outside their immediate colleagues, and the region where they live and work. But each one has made an important contribution to the social work profession, and to social policies through service, teaching, writing, research, program development, administration, or legislation.

The NASW Pioneers have paved the way for thousands of other social workers to contribute to the betterment of the human condition; and they are are role models for future generations of social workers. The NASW Foundation has made every effort to provide accurate Pioneer biographies.  Please contact us at to provide missing information, or to correct inaccurate information. It is very important to us to correctly tell these important stories and preserve our history.  

Please note, an asterisk attached to a name reflects Pioneers who have passed away. All NASW Social Work Pioneers® Bios are Copyright © 2021 National Association of Social Workers Foundation. All Rights Reserved.

Skip Navigation Links
John “Jay” Kenney, PhD, MSW, MA, MBA,
John “Jay” Kenney* (1951-2022)

Pioneering Contributions

John “Jay” Kenney, PhD, MSW, MA, MBA, shaped and left a legacy of outstanding and award-winning programs and policies for older adults and individuals with disabilities in Montgomery County, Maryland. Kenney applied his leadership, policy, strategic planning and partnership-building skills to communicate the interdependence of people, programs and organizations toward improving the lives of Montgomery County residents of diverse backgrounds.  As the first chief of Aging and Disability Services, within the Montgomery County Department of Health and Human Services, Kenney served with an outstanding public service record for more than 25 years, growing the Disability, Aging, and Adult Services into a trailblazing team of 170 staff, and winning numerous national, state and local awards.  

Kenney was selected for his team-building, analytic and facilitation skills as the lead coordinator for the County Executive’s two Senior Summits on Vital Aging (2008 and 2015) which convened over 400 stakeholders (federal, State and local elected officials, agency directors, community partners and advocates, consumers and business and faith community representatives) in a strategic planning effort to address current and emerging needs of seniors.  

This work culminated in the County’s enrollment in the World Health Organization/AARP Global Network of Age-Friendly Communities and membership in the Dementia-Friendly America initiative.  Among the outcomes: creating and launching a network to increase volunteer opportunities for residents 50 years of age and older, launching Senior Planet, a digital technology training for older residents, launching a new monthly article in The Beacon as well as seniors-focused newsletters in other languages, highlighting key resources and programs. Additional accomplishments include improved communication across agencies and the Montgomery County Elder and Vulnerable Adult Abuse Task Force, and improving communication, coordination and resources to improve response systems addressing increased reports of elder and vulnerable adult abuse.  

Additionally, Kenney co-founded and co-chaired one of the first community-based ethics review committees in the nation, which included an ethicist and member of the clergy to help guide the review process.  The department’s Ethics Committee received a national best practice awards from the National Association of Counties (NACo), the National Association of Social Workers (NASW), and the National Human Services Administration.  

Kenney chaired the Montgomery County Shelter Task Force, that was responsible for disaster preparedness and response, for more than 15 years.  His post-9/11 disaster and mass care leadership were recognized both nationally and at the state level.  

Finally, Kenney’s leadership experience led to the creation of the Montgomery County Adult Protective Services Program, including the adjunct program of Public Guardianship, recognized both at the national and state level as a model for elder abuse prevention, investigation and service. He actively supported the Montgomery County’s training program for APS investigators and its public and private partners as well.  His Public Guardianship program, where all guardianship caseworkers are also nationally certified, is still cited as a model for Maryland and beyond.
Career Highlights

Kenney was hired in 1981 as a medical social worker and in 1986 was promoted to associate director, Social Work Department at the Washington Hospital Center. He was responsible for delivery of medical social work services for a 900-bed tertiary care/Regional Shock-Trauma Center. 

He moved into leadership positions in Montgomery County as the administrator, Adult Assessment Center, Departments of Health and Department of Social Services (joint appointment), Montgomery County, MD from 1989-1991; Chief, Adult Services Division, Department of Social Services, Montgomery County, MD from 1991-1995; and as chief, Aging and Disability Services, Department of Health and Human Services, Montgomery County, MD from 1995-2018.  

Always identifying himself as social worker, Kenney was a member of national and Maryland NASW during his clinical and administrative career. He retired from public service with the County in September 2018 to join the Jewish Social Service Agency (JSSA) as its Chief Operations Officer (COO), but had to leave JSSA in December 2019, after having been diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) in June 2019. 

Biographic Data

Kenney earned his BA in Psychology from Southern Illinois University in 1972, his MSW from The Catholic University of America, National School of Social Services in 1981 and his PhD in Social Work in 1985 from The Catholic University of America, National School of Social Services. He also earned an MBA from Southeastern University in 1989, and an MA in Theology from Catholic University in 1979.

Significant Recognition and Awards

Kenney’s numerous recognitions and awards include: Extraordinary Service Award, GrassRoots Organization for the Well-being of Seniors (GROWS), 2020; Exceptional Partnership Award, Montgomery County Fire and Rescue Services, 2018; Outstanding Supporter Award, American Muslim Senior Society, 2018; Volunteer of The Year Award, The Senior Connection, for 20 years serving as a volunteer grocery shopper in the Pantry Filler Program, May 2016; Achievement Award, Disaster Shelter/Response Team, National Association of Counties, 2016; Alumni Achievement Award, National Catholic School of Social Service, 2014; Disability Hiring Award, Montgomery County Department of Economic Development, Annual Workforce Investment Board Breakfast, October 2008; Leadership and Advocacy Award of Recognition, Independence Now, Inc., May 2005; Distinguished Leadership Award, National Community Leadership Association, 2003. 

Additionally, he earned the Governor’s Quality Award, State of Maryland Governor’s Quality Award for leadership in continuous quality improvement efforts in public services, 1995; and the Army Commendation Medal for Exceptionally Meritorious Service, September 1974.

Significant Publications

  • Samus, Q., Lyketsos, C., Kenney, J., “Home is Where the Future Is: BrightFocusFoundation Consensus Panel on Dementia Care.” Alzheimer’s and Dementia: The Journal of the Alzheimer’s Association, 2018.
  • Kenney, John J. “Post-Heroic Leadership: What’s In, What’s Out,” in Creative Leadership: Mining the Gold in Your Workforce. A.S. Migs Damiani, St. Lucie Press. 1998.
  • Bowes, N., Kenney, J. and Pearson, C. “The Impact of Automation on Attitudes and Productivity in a Human Services Agency:  An Emerging Issue for Employee Assistance Programs.”  Computers in Human Services (Volume 9, No. ½), 1993.

Newly Inducted NASW Social Work Pioneer Hortense McClinton 2015

Nominate A New NASW Pioneer

Please note, Pioneer nominations made between today’s date through March 31, 2023, will not be reviewed until spring 2023.

Completed NASW Pioneer nominations can be submitted throughout the year and are reviewed at the June Pioneer Steering Committee Meeting. To be considered at the June meeting, submit your nomination package by March 31. To learn more, visit our Pioneer nomination guidelines.

New Pioneers 

Congratulations newly elected Pioneers!  Pioneers will be inducted at the 2023  Annual Program and Luncheon. Full biographies and event details coming soon.