skip to Main Content

Thompson School Stories: Lee Stein

Social Work Alum Lee Stein (MSW ’99) Works for Families, Communities, and Future Social Workers on Maui

Lee Stein Photo 300px

The shortage of social workers on the neighbor islands has sparked a call for more distance learning opportunities for social work students there. Lee Stein, who earned her MSW from UH Mānoa in 1999 and is a retired professor and currently adjunct faculty at UH Maui College, has answered that call.

Stein teaches Social Work 200, the course which serves as the pathway to the UH Manoa Distance Learning Bachelor of Social Work degree and forms the foundation of the distance learning program on Maui. It’s also an entrance into networking, camaraderie, and mutual support among social workers. The course serves as a touchstone for students who will go on to spend their careers helping individuals and families who are challenged, marginalized and in need of support. “I love engaging with students,” Stein said. “I both support and learn from them.”

Stein was interested in social work at an early age. She was born in Southern California, and her family embodied progressive values, including feminism, equality and social justice. They marched for civil rights and were politically engaged.

“I knew I wanted to help people find their strengths and discover their path out of hardship,” Stein said.

Her mother passed away when Stein was just 17, and she moved to Maui to live with her best friend. A friend asked her if she would like to volunteer at the Women Helping Women Shelter and she jumped at the chance.  She quickly was hired as an advocate for women pursuing Temporary Restraining Orders.

“Working with many of these women who were Native Hawaiian brought into sharp relief the collective widespread trauma of colonization,” Stein said. Growing up with social justice values, she recognized the devastating consequences Hawaiian people continue to experience”.

Stein quickly realized that the ongoing stream of women seeking the safety of shelter did not necessarily stop the continuing abuse. During her time at WHW, she became the Hawaii State Representative to the National Coalition of Domestic Violence. There she found a group of women who began Batterer Intervention Programs across the country. Curiosity about these programs led a mentor to invite her to  visit  Minnesota to learn about the program there. She quickly made plans to travel to Minnesota and interned for 4 months at the program. This immersion in batterer intervention led her in 1983 to found the Alternatives to Violence (ATV) Program for court ordered men involved in family violence across  Maui, Molokai and Lanai.

Realizing that a graduate degree in Social Work would be helpful, in 1997 Stein moved to Oahu to attend the UH Mānoa School of Social Work, now known as the Thompson School of Social Work & Public Health.  While earning her MSW she interned at a halfway house for women who were transitioning from the Women’s Community Correctional Center (WCCC) for non-violent drug related offenses. As the case manager for the women, Lee  became aware of women’s pathways to addiction from hearing their stories, listening to them individually and in groups. “I recognized strengths that seemed hidden from the women,  so I would reflect back to them the strengths, values, hopes and dreams that I saw in them. Once the women realized they could change the course of their lives, they began to support one another with that goal. Parallel to work with the women, Stein earned her Certification as a Substance Abuse Counselor (CSAC).

After finishing her MSW degree in 1999, she returned to Maui and became the Executive Director of the Malama Family Recovery Center, an addiction treatment program for women with young children. She did this for almost 2 years.

In 2001, Stein accepted a faculty position at Maui Community College and served as the Human Services Program Coordinator. Having been an agency administrator, Lee collaborated with community agencies to create and offer courses that were needed to bring evidence-based best-practices for their staff. She developed numerous courses and worked to recruit interested students, inspiring them to join in working towards safer and healthier communities on Maui. Although she officially retired in 2018, Stein continues to teach Social Work 200 to keep the pathway to UH Manoa BSW and MSW program open for Maui students.

Over the years, Stein has received numerous accolades for teaching and service. In 2003, she was awarded the prestigious UH Board of Regents’ Medal for Excellence in Teaching, as well as the Hung Wo and Elizabeth Lau Ching Foundation Award for Faculty Service to the Community. In 2005, Lee was named as one of the 100 Maui County Centennial Honorees for her work to reduce domestic violence on the Valley Isle. In 2010, the Maui County Committee on the Status of Women recognized Stein for her accomplishments benefiting the community.

But much more than these awards, what matters most to Stein are the moments when she encounters women from the programs that she used to run, or students from her classes.

“I can be at a store, and the woman behind the counter will say, ‘I got sober from one of your groups’. Stein said. She runs into women who were at the WHW shelter and proudly tell her they are now living very different lives.

“Lee has inspired an entire generation of social workers on Maui,” said Tetine Sentell, Interim Dean of the Thompson School of Social Work & Public Health. “She is an uplifting force, and she has established and invigorated the programs that are now actively building social work capacity on Maui. Families and communities on Maui will benefit from her work for many years to come.”

Back To Top