Networking benefits Columbiana County

How do you leave the job at the office at the end of the day if your name is Eileen Dray-Bardon and you are the director of Columbiana County Jobs and Family Services?

“You don’t.” Bardon retired May 3 after 40 years of service to the people of Columbiana County, about 20 of those years as the director. She has believed that as director of the agency, she was on duty around the clock. Before she married, she made sure that her husband-to-be understood that she would be working a lot. He would have to be all right with that. And he has always been supportive of her and her work. She often arrived home at 9 p.m. They would talk for an hour before she went off to bed.

She recalls the first time, as director, sitting down with Carol Bretz, then director of Community Action Agency and Eloise Traina, executive director of Family Recovery Center. Traina gifted Bardon with a lovely vase and every time she looks at that vase, she remembers that meeting where they discussed how they would collaborate to help families and clients in the county.

Bardon is a thinker. She has come up with ideas to better serve the residents of the county. When it has looked like there was no way to make things work she has looked outside the box and found ways. She has attended trainings.

“If there is leadership training available to you, do it,” she advises. “You can always learn something there.”

Key to the work involved with the staff at Jobs and Family Services is working together. Often, none of the agencies involved in considering a project has had the resources available to do the project alone have found that together, they can accomplish what they were shooting for.

“It’s amazing what can be accomplished when it doesn’t matter who gets the credit,” she quoted. She adopted the statement attributed to President Harry Truman, and posted it on the wall in her office. Often she has found it to be true. She appears to have proven that where there is a will there is a way.

She said empathy, sympathy, compassion, are required. “Everyone has a story, everyone is unique.” And it’s important to listen to them, to hear what they are really saying so you can get to the heart of why they are here, at the agency asking for help, and find ways to help them.

At this time there are only 12 individuals on cash assistance from the welfare agency. Dating back to February 1983 when there were about 1,000 families on welfare assistance, suddenly they were hit with 1,000 applications when Crucible went dark. The staff was overwhelmed. Applicants were angry and upset about the losses of their livelihoods. The hopelessness is a part of the problem in the county, she said.

When she came in as director, there were 11 employees. The state of Ohio informed her there should be a minimum of 24. But there was no money for the additional staff. There was no children’s levy. So she asked the county commissioners to approve putting a levy on the ballot. Amid the skepticism, she got the approval she sought, and the levy passed in 2000. There are now 32 employees in Children’s Services.

In 1976, the welfare office building was burned down by a disgruntled welfare client. In 1979, Bardon started to work for the agency. Her predecessor, Wilma Carter, tried to get a new building back then, but it wasn’t to be. The offices were housed in a building in downtown Lisbon that was damp and wet most of the time. Bardon took the worst office in the structure because she couldn’t let someone else. When staff came in to see her they came in bundled up because it was so cold in the winter. There was a water problem with the building and people were truly ill because of the ills of the structure itself.

Bardon worked with County Commissioner Jim Hoppel to get the new building. Then Congressman Ted Strickland provided some funding, as did State Representative Chuck Blasdel. With this seed money, $1.2 million, they could see some light at the end of the tunnel.

She would tell the staff, “It’s going to happen.” Some of them would say, “I’ll believe it when I see it.” But in 2012 the agency moved to its new home on Dickey Drive, Lisbon.

Another highlight of her directorship is the passage in 2015 of the Senior Services levy. Most people didn’t think it would pass, but it did, by 52 percent. The Adult Protective Services department received Title 20 grants, but those covered only home assessments. There was no money to make the changes and in a year, they were back at the residence making assessments again. But the Senior Services levy made a huge difference. A home assessment can be done through self-referral or a family member asking for help for their loved ones and the agency can actually help with some needed changes. It’s not about abuse and neglect. It’s about the needs of seniors in Columbiana County. The Senior Services levy is the result of county residents understanding that there is a need for senior services.

Bardon prefers to keep to the background of making things happen to better the quality of life in Columbiana County. She’s been a member of the county parks board for about six years and plans to continue in that capacity. Her husband has waited patiently and now the pair are planning some new adventures together.

“I have a warm feeling for the people of Columbiana County,” she said. She may not sit at the helm of JFS now, but she’s a thinker, a doer, and it’s hard to imagine that she will not be trying to improve things for better quality of life and encouraging others to do the same.

Addiction has no address, but Family Recovery Center does. For more information about the education, prevention and treatment programs for substance abuse and related behavioral issues, contact the agency at 964 N. Market St., Lisbon; phone, 330-424-1468; or e-mail, info@familyrecovery.org. FRC works with Columbiana County Jobs and Family Services to make clients and residents of the county healthier on the road to recovery.