Speaking from life

AT WORK

At work

Human Resources spokeswoman aims to make it better

August 03, 2008|By Nancy Jones Bonbrest | Nancy Jones Bonbrest,Special to The Sun

Connie Tolbert

Public information officer

Maryland Department of Human Resources, Baltimore

Salary $48,000

Age 47

Years on the job 15

How she got started As a former welfare recipient, Tolbert was asked to serve on a welfare reform commission during the early 1990s put together by then-Gov. William Donald Schaefer. Tolbert was working then as an administrative assistant for a nonprofit organization, but she had been on and off welfare for a number of years. After her work on the volunteer commission, she got a job with the Department of Human Resources certifying nursing homes.

Members of the DHR public information office sometimes would ask her to speak to various groups about welfare reform. She eventually was asked to become a full-time public information officer for the department.

Typical day Colbert's day starts by checking e-mail to determine any details that need to be addressed for impending town meetings, public events or news conferences. Her office includes a small staff, which serves as the marketing arm for the state agency.

Her job is to notify media outlets about coming events or about issues that involve missing children, child support, welfare, foster care, food stamps and other social services. This includes writing news releases, developing marketing material and organizing events.

She also disseminates information and data for reporters when they call with questions about poverty statistics, child care subsidy numbers, medical assistance data or any other information about DHR programs and services.

"I'm in the office most of the time. We serve as support for the rest of the department."

Colbert helps to write a quarterly publication promoting events and services that's sent out to offices throughout the state to keep the county jurisdictions connected and informed. For this, she'll interview people who have used DHR programs and services to change their lives.

"I like to interview customers who have overcome the odds or are experiencing difficulties," Colbert said. "I can share that information with others who may be having those same issues."

DHR The main concern of the agency is for "the well-being of any Marylander in need, any vulnerable person," Colbert said.

Fast-paced job It's basically issue-driven, and child welfare issues are about 75 percent of what she's typically working with. "Think about child welfare in Maryland and imagine three people in this office trying to make sure the information going out is accurate. It really challenges my organizational skills. You have to really be on top of your game."

The good Interaction with the people DHR serves. "It wasn't long ago I was on the other side of that coin. I'll never forget that. One paycheck can do it."

The bad Getting information out about distressful situations involving children.

Overcoming odds Colbert is a breast cancer survivor, who only recently finished treatment.

Philosophy "Hurt no one but make it better for the next."

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