Longtime social services leader Bloom an `unsung hero'

July 04, 2004|By Mary C. Schneidau | Mary C. Schneidau,SUN STAFF

Edward R. Bloom began working for the Maryland Department of Human Resources in 1960 because, as he put it, he "needed a job." But he soon fell in love with the work and the people, so he stayed - for more than 43 years.

Last week, Bloom retired as director of the Anne Arundel County Department of Social Services, a position he has held since 1980.

"I couldn't have picked a better job," said Bloom, 67, who began his career as a case worker in Montgomery County. "It's full of challenges and full of needs."

As county director of a state social agency, Bloom dealt with welfare, child abuse, homelessness and parenting. He supervised a staff of 410 and a $170 million annual budget.

Anne Arundel County Executive Janet S. Owens, who has known Bloom for 15 years, said she believes he has done a great job in a position that is often ignored by the public.

"He just has never wavered in his commitment," she said. "He's an unsung hero."

Bloom and Owens said Sarah's House, a transitional housing facility for families in Fort Meade, is the major highlight of his career.

He cultivated a partnership between the state, Catholic Charities and the Department of Defense to make Sarah's House, which opened in 1988, a reality. In addition to housing, the facility provides transportation, child care and educational resources to hundreds of families a year. Bloom said he hopes it will continue to expand its services.

Bloom also said he was proud of his efforts in the mid-1990s to reform welfare at the local level and encourage more people to enter the work force. The position was unpopular among some social workers, he said, but he felt it was the right thing to do.

Owens agreed, and credited Bloom with helping hundreds of people get off welfare rolls.

"They wouldn't know Ed Bloom by looking at him," she said, "but they wouldn't be where they were without him."

A job with the government seemed unlikely for Bloom, who was born in Toronto and who became an American citizen after he moved to the United States with his parents when he was 9 or 10. He did not attend college right after graduating from high school; instead - spurred on by John Steinbeck novels, he said - he headed west.

The need and desire for a college education caught up with him, though, and he earned his undergraduate degree in psychology from American University in Washington.

Then Bloom, who is white, went to graduate school for social work at Washington's Howard University, an historically black college.

"That was an interesting experience," he said. "I thought I could better learn the problems facing [many blacks] if I worked with them."

Bloom's passion for social work had begun. He went on to serve as a social services director under five Anne Arundel county executives and four governors.

Administration and management of Anne Arundel County's social services office is being temporarily directed by Elizabeth Seale, the deputy secretary of the state Department of Human Resources, said Norris West, a state agency spokesman. An interim director will be named soon, he said, and the county and the state are working on plans for an open search.

Bloom said he has no specific plans for his retirement, except to enjoy the company of his wife, Jennie, an assistant dean at the University of Maryland School of Social Work, and two college-age children. The couple live in Annapolis.

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