DOBSON — Just days before he leaves his post at the Department of Social Services to take the helm of the state agency, Director Wayne Black made one more gesture for the children of Surry County.
But it’s a move he vehemently denies has anything to do with himself or his legacy.
During last Monday’s meeting of the county’s board of commissioners, Black approached the board about establishing a fund for children in honor of the late Leslie Eldridge — a long-time employee of the agency he says embodied the spirit of the department. She died a year ago, on May 28.
“It’s my privilege to come before you tonight to make a special request,” he told the board. “In my 10 years here I’ve made many requests in front of this group, but never one as hard or that I feel as passionate about.”
Shortly after Black asked the board to establish the Leslie Eldridge Special Account for Children, the board unanimously approved the establishment of the fund, a vote that had Eldridge’s family in tears.
The funds will be used to cover “the little things,” that often get overlooked among his agency’s services.
“The question we ask is, is this something that rises to a level of need to allow the child to be safe or cared for in their home. We first and foremost want to prevent children from having to be removed from their families, but we have to ensure their safety. Often, it’s something that’s not a big deal, but a little thing.”
Once a need is recognized, a social worker will alert their supervisor, who will bring it before the department’s director for approval.
Black said the fund is technically a line item in the budget, and will carry forward from year to year.
“The funds come from donations, whether from churches, civic groups or individuals,” he said, noting the special fund receives no county or state monies. “It can come from pretty much anywhere, and anyone who would like to donate can call the Department of Social Services and just ask.”
The outgoing DSS director said he can see no more fitting way to honor Eldridge.
“She was involved with the agency for years, and had a special place in her hear for children,” he said quietly Tuesday. “There were many times she pulled money from her pocketbook to cover these little needs. I think this is the best way to honor her legacy.”
Black noted that Eldridge served as a “mother” to many in the department, including himself.
“As director of social services, I can’t tell you how important it is to have someone as knowledgeable and astute as she was, someone who will tell you what they think whether you want to hear it or now. Leslie made us all better.”
While speaking of her recently, as the clocked ticked to 12 p.m. he realized that he heard of her death at noon on May 28, 2012, one year to the minute.
He became quiet.
“If she were here today she’d have been in my office every day telling me what to do when I get to Raleigh,” he said. “She was the spirit of child welfare in Surry County.”
Reach Keith Strange at email@example.com or 719-1929.