Nancy Amidei, expert on national social issues and women in poverty policy, is the third recipient of the Belle S. Spafford Endowed Chair in the Graduate School of Social Work at the University of Utah.

As the Spafford chair, Amidei will focus on the contributions low-income women make to society. She will work through community groups and sponsor activities such as seminars and classes, as well as look for ways to make public policy more effective for low-income women in Utah."People tend to think low-income women are passive people who take from others while middle- and upper-income people are seen as active givers - people who help the poor," she said. "In reality, the poor are most often helped by other poor."

She said low-income women use enormous energy to help poor people and the community. "One woman I know voluntarily stands in bread lines and clothing hand-out lines at her church for mothers with babies, the elderly or physically impaired in order to make a contribution," she said. "Toys in low-income services waiting rooms are most often donated by low-income families who have themselves received services."

Low-income women also contribute as full-time caretakers for elderly or impaired family members.

"Frequently when I visit the home of a low-income woman, someone drops in and asks for help with something like baby-sitting, gas money or emotional support," Amidei said. "People turn to their neighbors and relatives first when they are in a crisis, and poor women respond to the requests for help. The first line of defense for the poor is the poor."

Amidei earned a master's degree in social work from the University of Michigan. She is a visiting professor at Washington University School of Social Work in St. Louis, Mo., and is on faculty at the Chicago University School of Social Service in Washington, D.C. She's also a Washington correspondent for Commonwealth magazine and is a columnist for four major newspapers across the country.

The Spafford Chair, the only endowed chair at the university that focuses on women, was established to honor the former president of the Relief Society of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. She was president of the National Council of Women and held office in the International Council of Women prior to her death in 1982. The chair brings national social work leaders to Utah for one or two academic years.