Scottsdale's human services director retires - East Valley Tribune: East Valley Local News

Scottsdale's human services director retires

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Posted: Tuesday, June 10, 2008 5:35 pm | Updated: 9:23 pm, Fri Oct 7, 2011.

There's something missing from Connie James' former office on Scottsdale Civic Center Mall. And it's not just pens, paper and other usual office items. It's something more subtle:

The threshold under her door, removed and presented to her in appreciation for 30 years of service to the underprivileged in Scottsdale.

James, 61, the city's human services director, retired from a 30-year career in social services. Her last day was Thursday.

A retirement party was thrown in her honor June 2 at the Granite Reef Senior Center that was attended by several current and retired city employees.

James said she's always felt a calling to help the underprivileged.

"I grew up in Apache Junction," James said. "It was not a wealthy community, so (pursuing social work) just seemed like the thing to do. It's always been enjoyable to help people."

James earned bachelor's and master's degrees in social work from ASU in 1974 and 1976, respectively.

James said she was led toward pursuing a career in Scottsdale after some field placements she did while at ASU.

"I really liked the model at Vista del Camino where it was a community center and you were using a variety of services to help people. It wasn't just a counseling office."

James started her career in Scottsdale as a social worker at Vista del Camino, 7700 E. Roosevelt St., in 1978, working extensively with the Yaqui Indian community. After that, James worked in water operations for a year. James worked in human resources for 14 years after that and has been the human service director for the last 10.

James said the accomplishments she is most proud of are the renovation of Vista del Camino, which was just completed, and the revitalization of an alley outside Vista del Camino, between Roosevelt Street and the center. Vista del Camino, which opened in 1974, underwent a complete renovation begun in July 2006 that closed the building for 19 months. It reopened in February.

James said she hopes her legacy is defined by the multitude of services available in the city. She said she is proud that Scottsdale has a variety of human services available. They include senior centers, which have recreation and social services together, and other centers such as the Paiute Neighborhood Center.

"I would hope that model would continue and that Scottsdale would continue to embrace a comprehensive social services network," James said.

Kathy Breen, human services manager at Vista del Camino, cut the threshold out of James' office because it represents all the stories of all the people who have crossed over into her office.

Breen expressed praise for James saying that she "has helped so many people and has done so many wonderful things and has had a hard job for so long - dealing with difficult situations, as the human services director, she's a gatekeeper to social services."

James spoke about her short- and long-term plans for retirement. She plans to teach her 3-year-old granddaughter how to swim this summer. In addition, she will attend her 43rd high school reunion this summer. In terms of long-term plans, James said she envisions volunteering at Vista del Camino for the Adopt-a-Family program and Adopt-a-Senior program.

The city plans to conduct an extensive search to find James' replacement. Breen said that Debra Baird, the city's community services general manager, will be the interim director through the summer until a replacement can be found.

"It's been a wonderful experience to work here," James said. "I couldn't ask for anything more."

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