Laura C. Cerow went to work at the Jefferson County Department of Social Services in 1981 as a welfare examiner for the Home Energy Assistance Program because it was a job.
Fast forward 32 years, and the 56-year-old has just announced her retirement as department commissioner, effective Oct. 31.
I had a public relations degree and nobody did their PR locally then, she said. The nonprofits werent as developed as they are now. I took the county test, and it was a job with benefits.
Mrs. Cerow said her passion for the work has allowed her to climb the local DSS hierarchy. Before being appointed commissioner in January 2008, she held a variety of positions, including public assistance intake worker, child protective caseworker, social worker and director of services.
Some of the people I worked with when I first came here are grandparents now, she said. Work here can be difficult because you dont always see the good that did come out of your work.
She said thats because client successes, particularly getting off public assistance and into the workforce, often are found long after a DSS workers initial introduction. The agency provides many services to thousands of clients each month.
Throughout the past three decades, Mrs. Cerow said, some major changes that occurred include increased state regulations, which have pushed staff to spend more time doing paperwork and less time with clients. Public assistance, she said, also no longer is used as a generational reliance on assistance as a way of life.
Public assistance should be a safety net for someone who has no alternative, she said.
This year was the time to retire, she said, because she wants to travel, spend time with her grandchildren, garden more and participate in community service. She also wants to leave now, while the state retirement system is of the best benefit to her.
Im still healthy enough to have fun, and I have family, she said. Statewide, there are a number of commissioners retiring. The job gets harder every day with what you have to keep track of.
That is something, however, that Teresa W. Gaffney, former director of childrens services, will learn growing forward. Mrs. Cerow said Mrs. Gaffney recently was appointed deputy director of the agency, as a way to groom and train her possibly to step into the commissioners role in November, although Mrs. Cerow said that would be up to the Jefferson County Board of Legislators.
Mrs. Cerow resides in Clayton with her husband, Albert L. Audie, and has two grown children who live in Jefferson County.