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History of Alexander County DSS

Making a Difference

Historical Background

What is now known as county Departments of Social Services began by action of the North Carolina General Assembly in 1917. At that time it was determined that each county should employ at least one part-time worker to provide oversight and assistance to the "paupers" located in the county. In 1923, an appropriation by the General Assembly in the "Mothers Aid" law was used by local boards to aid poor families. The program continued until the early 1930's. Then, the economic depression brought a great increase in the need for financial assistance. The Social Security Act of 1935 provided federal money to be used with state and local funds in welfare programs.

The 1933 Emergency Relief Assistance Program provided funds to employ the first known Welfare Officer for Alexander County. Mrs. Amanda Bogle Gwaltney was appointed to this job, providing general oversight of the poor and assisting in the ERA program. The position was an appointment by both the Board of Commissioners and the School Board. In 1935 Luther Dyson was appointed by the two boards to be the Superintendent of Public Welfare, with Mrs. Gwaltney remaining in charge of the federal ERA program.

Early duties of the Welfare Superintendent included monitoring school attendance, oversight of people released from penal institutions and administering the Mothers Aid Program. The WPA program, added after the depression, provided an early job training relief program, food, clothing and quilts to local needy residents. The Welfare Officer was assigned the duty of certifying households for WPA.

Primary changes since 1935 have been in the growth of programs and services. The earliest known budget of approximately $768 has grown to over twenty-three million including federal, state and county funds. The NC General Assembly changed the name from Department of Public Welfare to Department of Social Services in 1969, to more accurately reflect the wide range of programs and services delivered by each county.

Directors of the local department since Mr. Dyson's retirement in 1973 include James M. Berdine who served from 1974 until 1977, Milton Jackson from 1977 until 1978. Nan Belk Campbell was the director from February 1978 through January 2003. In February of 2003, Karen P. Hoyle was named director. And then in 2011, Cindy P. Holman became the director, after the untimely death of Karen Hoyle in 2010. Holman continues in that role at present.

The Alexander County Department of Social Services is governed by a five-member board, each serving three year terms. Two members of the board are appointed by the County Commissioners, and two by the State Social Services Commission. The four appointed members then choose the fifth member. If a unanimous decision cannot be reached on the fifth member, the resident Superior Court Judge in the county appoints the member. The board must meet at least once per month.