Marett bids farewell

Published 8:20 am Thursday, July 31, 2014

Geoff Marett and his wife, Katie (left), greet two Gates County employees at a farewell reception held in his honor last week at the Gates County DSS Office in Gatesville. Staff Photo by Cal Bryant

Geoff Marett and his wife, Katie (left), greet two Gates County employees at a farewell reception held in his honor last week at the Gates County DSS Office in Gatesville. Staff Photo by Cal Bryant

GATESVILLE – Three years ago, Geoffrey Marett said he didn’t think for a single moment that his career in Social Services would land him in Gates County.

Now he can’t believe he’s leaving.

July 25 marked Marett’s last day as Director of the Gates County Department of Social Services. The Johnston County native has left to accept a job with Beaufort County DSS, a move that allows he and his wife (Katie, a native of Kinston) – new parents of four-month-old Allison – to be closer to both sides of their growing family.

While his stay in Gates County was brief, the workload went through the roof, especially with the implementation of NC FAST (Families Accessing Services through Technology), a program designed to improve the way the NC Department of Health and Human Services and county departments of social services do business with new technological tools and business processes, enabling DSS to spend less time on administrative tasks and more time assisting families.

“Ask any (DSS) director in the state and they will tell you this has been one of the most trying times of transition within DSS,” Marett said. “We made that adjustment here in Gates County. The employees here did a great job in adapting to these new skills. That’s a testament to their willingness to adapt and change. They didn’t resist change, they embraced change.”

As a first-time DSS Director, Marett said the experience gained in Gates County will prove valuable down the road.

“Because there are not a lot of management layers here because we are such a small county, I was able to shift gears and be a direct line worker, an income maintenance worker, as well as an administrator,” he said. “I’m grateful for that opportunity to learn, it made me a better director.”

Marett also learned how to interact with the other various boards and committees in Gates County.

“A lot of that interaction dealt with an update on NC FAST, but because of my desire to see DSS totally transparent, I used those opportunities, meeting with other groups, to spread the word about all our programs and how they are designed to help the people of this county,” he stated.

And, as most DSS directors will attest, there’s an endless string of opinions of how such an organization can better serve the public.

“One of the things I would like to see addressed is the funding for small, rural counties such as Gates,” Marett stressed. “Due to a smaller tax base here, the resources we offer are small in nature. We do a great job with the limited resources we have. Increasing that funding – from the federal level, not the county – will allow DSS to offer more programs.”

One of the toughest jobs to handle within DSS is the emotional tug on a worker’s heart when they hear the stories of why a person is seeking assistance.

“When I first started with DSS, I would go home and dream about the heartache of my clients,” Marett said. “I guess the best analogy to get past that emotional tie to your clients is visit a doctor in ICU trauma. Is he affected by what he sees almost daily….yes. It’s not that they being totally immune to what they see, but over time they reach the point they become a bit more desensitized to it.

“Eventually, all of us that work in emotional type jobs get over the original shock and awe, and go about our duties to get these people the help they need,” he added. “So many times, DSS is the office of last resort. Not only do we have to assess their needs, we offer counseling as well…give them some sense of hope and encouragement. We saw the worst of that during the recession. We saw people that once were prosperous and with a well-paying job go to a lesser-income job or without a job at all. We were there to help fill the gap. We were there to make sure those adults were able to continue to provide for the medical and nutritional needs of their families.”

On the flip side of witnessing all the emotional grief firsthand, Marett said it was comforting for him and his staff to see the positive outcomes of the aid they provide.

“We pride ourselves in giving people a hand-up, not a hand-out; we don’t give out checks, we help people get back on their feet and move forward with their lives,” he smiled.

With Marett now moving on, he did impart some advice for his successor – interim DSS Director Antoinette Holley. She is no stranger to Gates County citizens as Holley has been an employee of the Gates County Department of Social Services for 20 years with approximately 15 of those years in a supervisory role.

“There is a close-knit and great group of people working for Gates County DSS, so my first bit of advice is to always be in touch with your staff here,” he said. “Make sure they understand the decisions you make, and be aware those decisions will not always be popular.

“Don’t be your own worst critic; try to find your balance between work and your personal life; and, most importantly, get out in the community and meet the people….this is a community that wants to see their leaders. Take that extra five or ten minutes to talk to them, that extra time will go a long way in the end.”

His departure after a little more than two years on the job wasn’t mapped out.

“I didn’t want to use GatesCounty as a stepping stone and that isn’t the case with me leaving. My decision to leave was strictly family related, and in a family-oriented county like Gates, I know ya’ll understand. I wish each and every one of you nothing but the best and I hope our paths cross again down the line,” Marett concluded.

About Cal Bryant

Cal Bryant, a 40-year veteran of the newspaper industry, serves as the Editor at Roanoke-Chowan Publications, publishers of the Roanoke-Chowan News-Herald, Gates County Index, and Front Porch Living magazine.

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