'Dragon Lady' Is Tireless Worker For Job Training

'Thing That Drivesme' Is Hope Of Helping Others

November 17, 1991|By Kerry O'Rourke | Kerry O'Rourke,Staff writer

Change is a challenge to Diane Massey. She faces new ideas directly -- figures out how to pay for them -- and makes them work.

"The line you hear over and over is, 'We never did it that way.' That's likethrowing down the gauntlet to me," she said.

Massey, administrator of job training programs for the county, istireless. She's also savvy, compassionate and full of good humor.

"I guess the thing that drives me is I hope in some way I can help people improve their quality of life," she said.

"Sometimes it's something minor like listening. Sometimes it's more like money or resources. Or it's more major like devising programs or revising services.

"There's so much to be done, and there always seems to be a way to do it if you get the right partners together, set goals and don't ever give up," said Massey, 38, the mother of two young daughters.

Her tenacity has earned her two nicknames: "Dragon Lady" and "Leader of the Opposition."

She minds neither.

Former county commissioner Jeff Griffith, now a Westminster attorney, gave her the first nickname after a series of negotiating sessions on a new program to offertransportation for summer school students.

"I like to give peoplenicknames," Griffith said. "It's sort of a left-handed compliment.

"She's aggressive in a positive way," he said. "She's very firm, but she's very reasonable. She just keeps coming at you."

Massey succeeded in getting the transportation program going last summer.

"That may sound really easy, but I'd been going after that for 2 1/2 years," she said.

Massey is a master at stretching money, said her boss, James C. Threatte, director of the county Office of Economic Development.

Her success can be attributed to "dedication, imagination, long hours and a good staff," he said.

"Her philosophy is, 'Younever ask for something without offering something in return,' " said Sandi L. Myers, an operations specialist in the county's Job Training Partnership Act office.

"We feel deep down she sometimes is theleader of the opposition because there sometimes is strong opposition to new ideas and change and to women being leaders," Myers said.

Massey has headed the JTPA office for 2 1/2 years. In that time, she's worked to make more job-training programs available for adults by pooling resources with other agencies. Her office helps people learn to read, write resumes, find ways to afford schooling and encourages high school students to stay in school.

It's not an easy job when the budget shrinks and the workload increases.

"Budget cuts are a reality. They're frightening," Massey said. "When you know something works, and you know there are people who need it, we can't tell them no. It's up to us to find a way."

Myers said Massey's positive attitude and relentless energy keep the nine staffers afloat.

"It keeps us out of the depths," she said, adding that their workload has increased in the last six to nine months because of increased unemployment in Carroll.

"She's what keeps us going. When you walk in in the morning, she's her perky self. She starts every day brand new."

Massey may be the boss, but she treats everyone in the office as an equal, she said.

"She respects our opinions," Myers said.

Masseysaid, "The people in this office are a tremendous group and also an incredible blend. No matter how down you may get over a budget cut, there will be seven or eight people who will be supportive, and somebody will have an idea."

It's hard not to get discouraged over budget cuts, she said.

"I let myself lose it for a few minutes," she said. "And then I say, 'No, that just won't do it. There's got to be a way.' "

She said her children, Katelin, 7, and Alexis, 5, are showing signs of inheriting her work ethic and social consciousness.

"The other day I caught them playing day-care license inspector," she said, laughing.

"My special love and focus in my life has always been for people with disabilities and their families," Massey said. "My belief is that people with disabilities are part of this community and need to be fully integrated."

She became interested in helpingthe disabled after being injured in a car accident when she was 22. She spent months in and out of hospitals and in physical therapy and still suffers from lower-back problems.

"I promised God if I couldget up and walk and use my arms again, I'd give something back," Massey said.

Before taking the job in Carroll County, she worked withthe National Association of Retarded Citizens and with government programs for the disabled in Arizona and Texas.

Massey, a Westminster resident, volunteers with The Go-Getters Club, a support group for disabled adults and their families.

"Her sense of commitment is contagious," said her husband of two months, Keith S. Massey.

The couple met professionally. He is deputy director of the Governor's WorkForce Investment Board, which develops and oversees job-training programs.

"We firmly believe government has a responsibility to help improve people's lives," he said.

She said, "I've always been 'Go for the underdog, and see what you can do.' "

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