Deona Hooper, Founder

Dover, Delaware
Photograph of a social worker speaking with a teenager. SW Helper's logo.
Turning pain into advocacy

In 2010, Deona Hooper was finishing up her master’s degree in social work at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill while simultaneously dealing with health challenges.

“I was getting sick, I knew something was wrong, but I didn’t quite know exactly what,” she recalls. “When I entered school, I was already a working social worker, but I had to leave a job with benefits to work a free internship at another agency in order to complete my graduation requirements.”

“I had a pre-existing condition and no health insurance while I was in school because at the time schools were not required to provide health insurance to all students," she says. “It wasn’t until I returned back to the workforce in 2012, I was able to obtain insurance, and it turned out that I had thyroid cancer.”

That prompted Deona to start her platform SWHelper (Social Work Helper), to advocate on behalf of social workers and for Obamacare. Also known as the Affordable Care Act, the landmark legislation which passed in 2010 forbade health insurance companies from refusing to cover patients or charge more because of pre-existing conditions.

As a result of her advocacy, she was invited to a White House briefing on implementing the Affordable Care Act as it related to social work.

The more her activism grew, the more she met people with similar stories to hers. “There were a lot of people like me without health insurance or who had pre-existing conditions, where the Affordable Care Act actually saved people’s lives,” she says. “So that’s how my pain turned to advocacy and how my platform got started.

Screenshot of the event page for SW Helper's Anti-Racism Virtual Summit with an image of a woman and the event agenda.
Bringing information to those who need it most

Deona’s award-winning news website is dedicated to providing information and resources related to social work and justice with an audience that includes academics, policymakers, mental health practitioners, and as she puts it, “people looking for information to help themselves or a loved one in crisis.”

Deona feels an obligation to use her platform to help and uplift voices within social work professions and champion those who use an anti-racist lens to better serve communities of color. “As the only digital publisher in the global social work space owned by a person of color, I’m committed to supporting my community,” she says.

She’s also created an annual anti-racism virtual summit, where participants learn about mental health and health equity from a social work perspective.

As Deona’s work with SWHelper grew, she began thinking about how she could turn it into a sustainable, full-time business. Because she couldn’t work at the time, and didn’t have a partner who could take care of the bills, Deona lost her house and had to move back home with her parents.

Photograph of a social worker speaking with an elderly man.
Building a business for others

Then Google AdSense came into the picture. Deona chose Adsense because it was at the forefront of revenue ad sharing for small publishers like her, she says.

“Adsense was extremely easy to implement and set up," she recalls. "My biggest challenge at the time was resizing ads for mobile and Adsense now offers mobile responsive ads to help remove the implementation guesswork from desktop to mobile.”

With her earnings from AdSense, Deona was able to begin making a living and build out her platform. “By living at home, I did not have to worry about bills, and AdSense gave me the ability to focus on the site 100% of the time,” she explains. “I lived off of my earnings from Google AdSense.”

“I had to figure out how I could turn this thing into a viable business and how I could make it sustainable. This is where Google AdSense came in.”
Boosting social good with an ad-based revenue model

Soon, she found her income and platform growing simultaneously, allowing her to continue the work she was so passionate about. “Google was a lifeline for me,” she says. “Back when I first started, my average earnings were around $400 a month, which was better than nothing. I could pay the server bill, and that helped.” But it wasn’t until she transitioned to using Google Ad Manager that she saw a big boost in her revenue. The platform has continued to help grow Deona’s mission.

“We’re able to make some really decent money, and that’s what keeps the lights on,” she recalls. “We now use Ad Manager exclusively which helps us keep SWHelper free for our users.” Because of the revenue generated from ads, SWHelper was able to fund an ad-free mobile app that helps users locate services in their local area like natural disasters locating food banks, senior services, domestic violence shelters, affordable daycare, and more. And Deona has consciously built out her business using Google tools like Workspace and Analytics to help her work more efficiently. “Everything we do to facilitate our work is supported by Google tools,” she says.

Continuing the mission to provide useful resources

While she’s intimately involved with all aspects of the site, the revenue has enabled her to fund free services for users as well as hire contractors for graphics, contributing writers, and admin contractors to help facilitate the mission and vision of the platform.

Deona remains committed to providing a platform where anyone can find resources without it costing anything, whether it’s help navigating Social Security or understanding strategies to boost employee wellbeing.

As for what the future holds for SWHelper, Deona has big plans. She’s getting ready to launch a podcast called Hero Support, where she’ll be speaking to experts about social justice issues. Five episodes have been recorded so far.

“My goal is to have somebody be a hero in their own life, and our job as helping professionals is to support them in getting there,” she says.

About the Publisher

Deona Hooper, MSW is the Founder and Editor-in-Chief of Social Work Helper (SWHelper). She has over two decades experience in nonprofit communications, digital development, publishing, and social media consulting. Deona has a Masters in Social Work with a concentration in Management and Community Practice as well as a Certificate in Nonprofit Management both from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Mantra she lives by: Stop waiting for someone to save you, Save yourself. Have main character energy.
Photo of Deona Hooper.