LUMBERTON — All but five of the Robeson County residents displaced to area hotels and motels by Hurricane Matthew are back in their own homes.
The last five people have found new housing and are expected to be out of hotels and motels by Saturday, Dawn Gavasci, a Robeson County Department of Social Services program director, told the agency’s board of directors on Tuesday.
The news comes shortly after the Federal Emergency Management Agency stopped paying for the hotel and motel rooms. The state has been paying for the temporary housing since Saturday.
Gavasci also told board members that the Robeson County Outreach Center, located at 301 N. Water St. in Lumberton, is open and fully operational. The center serves as a one-stop shop to assist Hurricane Matthew victims, and as of Friday the center had received 79 applications for assistance. The center can assist hurricane victims with such issues as housing, construction, rental assistance, and mental disorders such as depression.
The DSS board members chose new leaders Tuesday. Derick Coe was elected chairman and Lance Herndon, a Robeson County commissioner, was elected vice chairman.
Board members also took time during Tuesday’s meeting to honor an employee who is retiring after 35 years of service to DSS.
Catherine Baker’s decision to retire didn’t come easy.
“I loved working at this agency,” said Baker, the program director for Adult Services. “It was a hard decision to make. I don’t want to leave the staff, and I love the people in this county.”
Baker’s retirement is effective Tuesday. Most of her years at DSS were spent working in Adult Services.
“I love Adult Services. I belong to Adult Services,” she said.
A native of Rowland and now a resident of Lumberton, Baker received a bachelor’s degree in business education at Fayetteville State University. She then returned home to Robeson County to pursue her career in social work.
“I wanted to come back to the county and help the people here,” she said.
She began her career at Robeson County DSS in 1982 working in the Adult Medicaid Department, Baker said. She then moved to Child Support and then to Adult Services.
“I worked for four months in Children’s Protective Services, but that wasn’t for me,” Baker said. “I also worked for four months as a social worker in the Hoke County Schools, but I came back to work with Adult Services.”
There have been a lot of changes at DSS in the work environment, demand for services, and programs available to county residents, Baker said. The new DSS building on Caton Road, which replaced the former DSS office complex on N.C. 711 just outside Lumberton, has made a big difference in how the department can operate.
“When I started we had no computers, and more space was needed for us to keep all our records,” Baker said. “Now we have the space and equipment to do our jobs efficiently.”
Baker told board members that she is confident whoever replaces her as Adult Services program manager will do a good job.
“Whoever comes on board, I hope they will be very caring of the elderly,” she said. “I hope they will work toward finding resources to keep the elderly in their homes and not just look at nursing homes.”
When asked what she plans to do during her retirement, Baker said “rest and get rid of some stress.” She also said she hopes to do some traveling and visit new places, an activity up to this time she has not had the time to pursue.
Bob Shiles can be reached at 910-416-5165.