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Thinking Big
Amber Shrodes Makes an Impact

June 2016

Amber Shrodes

“I’m a fan of big ideas,” says Amber Shrodes. “I am resistant to anyone saying ‘that will never work.’”

As director of the Harford County Department of Community Services, her plate is full of big ideas for the five divisions she oversees: Office on Aging, Office on Drug Control Policy, Office of Disability Services, Office of Children, Youth and Families, and Office of Human Relations and Mediation.

Shrodes brought a background in marketing communications and her love of big ideas from her previous position as Foundation Director at the Harford County Public Library. “My first year doing the Library Gala, I told the staff we had to move the stacks to make room for a dance floor and a 26-piece orchestra,” she recalls. “They thought I was crazy! But we raised $100,000 (net), and all the books were returned safely to their shelves.”

Bringing her innovative thinking to the Department of Community Services has resulted in big-impact programs. Shrodes attributes her success to her stamina, tenacity and creativity. She prides herself on building strong relationships with community organizations and stakeholders. “We don’t have a blank check to solve problems,” she says. “But there are many ways to help, in addition to monetary support. We have excellent partnerships, numerous resources, a highly trained and dedicated staff, and we aren’t afraid to try something new,” she notes.

Her biggest project is the Glassman Administration’s initiative to fight heroin addiction and raise awareness about the heroin epidemic. Last year’s public awareness campaign, “Talk to your Kids before Heroin Does,” which included billboards, radio spots, social media, and a middle school speaking series, received over 4.1 million impressions. County funding of $100,000 was used for treatment assistance, relapse-prevention programs and recovery services, including assistance in obtaining housing and employment, credit repair, and vocational and GED support.

Shrodes says the County’s focus is prevention, but there is new emphasis on developing long-term recovery resources in the community. A mediation program designed to reduce recidivism, or relapse into criminal activity, by Harford County inmates provides community re-entry plans for inmates. A re-entry mediation coordinator hired by the County and the Sheriff’s Office works with the Harford County Health Department to develop plans for treatment and support services, such as housing and employment, as well as plans to reconcile with family members, address conflicts and return to the community. The program has demonstrated a 90 percent success rate of preventing recidivism.

The name of the game at Community Services is partnering, Shrodes notes. “We’re here to help. We just want to let people know what resources are available, so that when they need a service, all they have to do is call,” she encourages.

Among those resources is a new entity under the Glassman Administration and yet another priority for Shrodes – the division of Children, Youth and Family. The largely grant-funded division provides support to at-risk children and families in Harford County. This group is the beneficiary of Shrodes’ next big idea: a Youth and Family Resource Festival at APGFCU Arena on April 22, 2017. The event will feature a vast array of services for families, including health screenings, youth job opportunities, childcare providers, special needs services, transportation resources, food and housing assistance, and higher education opportunities.

Recognizing the growth of the senior population, The Office on Aging is another primary focus for Shrodes’s team. The number of adults in Harford County over age 60 is estimated to increase by 70 percent by 2030. The senior population is quickly outpacing available community resources. Shrodes says the Office on Aging’s outreach services, senior centers and other resources will be more important than ever in the coming years. Its newest program, “Decisions that Determine Your Destiny,” partners with the Harford Bar Association to demystify the legal process and provide information on drafting a financial power of attorney and/or advanced medical directive.

Despite the seemingly huge undertaking of managing five divisions, Shrodes says coming to the Department of Community Services was an opportunity she couldn’t refuse. Acknowledging that public service is never a 9 to 5 job, she says she and her colleagues have a passion for it and the work is very rewarding. “Our team looks forward to being here on Monday morning. We know every day we are helping others, and just one more call before we leave could make the difference for a family.”

Entering the non-profit world was one of her biggest challenges, she admits. “When my first non-profit opportunity was presented, I had to make a difficult decision to move from a corporate position to a non-profit,” Shrodes says. After talking with several of her mentors, she concluded that not only was her heart in human services, but the opportunity was also ideal for implementing big ideas. She took the plunge and has no regrets.

She counts her current and former bosses among her greatest influencers, as well as some prominent people in the non-profit community, including Joyce Duffy of Harford Family House; Mary Chance, former director of Community

Services and director of Administration; Claudia Holman of APGFCU; and JoAnn Blewett of Beloved, formerly with Habitat for Humanity Susquehanna. Shrodes says some of her proudest moments are when one of her mentors tells her she is making a positive impact on the community. In turn, Shrodes says she tries to be a mentor to other young women in the business and non-profit worlds.

Shrodes spends her personal time with her husband, Councilman Chad Shrodes, and their 6-year-old daughter, Madelyn Grace. She and her daughter like Barbie dolls and “playing in the dirt.” Not surprisingly, Shrodes also loves to read. Her favorite books are non-fiction and historical fiction, but she says, “I’ve read ‘Winning Friends and Influencing People’ at least four times.” I95