SCHENECTADY — When Brandy Hillard-Bouldin began her career with the Schenectady County Department of Social Services in 2006, the longtime Schenectady resident had a simple goal in mind.
“I’ve always just wanted to help people and help the community that I grew up in,” she said.
Hillard-Bouldin, 43, began working as a social examiner with the agency while finishing her bachelor’s in science and psychology in 2006, after stumbling upon a job posting in a newspaper listing.
She was promoted to a caseworker shortly after completing her degree at Sage College in Albany about a year later, and has steadily worked her way up the ranks, leading various departments within the agency while continuing her education in hopes of furthering her career – a move that has paid off in spades.
Hillard-Bouldin was appointed the new commissioner of social services by the Schenectady County Legislature Tuesday, succeeding outgoing Commissioner Paul Brady, who will be retiring from public service for a career in the private sector later this month after leading the agency since 2016. The position carries an annual salary of $142,239.
“I look forward to continuing to serve this community. I’ve been doing this work for a very long time, and it’s truly my passion,” she said. “My promise here tonight is that I will continue to do the very best I can to help us continue on a path to success.”
County officials tapped Hillard-Bouldin for the position following an extensive three-month search process that included an extensive interview process with numerous candidates by a special panel made up of county lawmakers and department heads.
“If there’s one person who works in our county that can handle this, it’s Brandy,” said County Manager Rory Fluman.
A Bronx native, Hillard-Bouldin moved to the Capital Region when she was in elementary school and has called Schenectady home since moving to the city from Albany as a freshman in high school.
She still lives in the city with her husband and has two children.
For the past year and a half, Hillard-Bouldin — an avid traveler who cites St. Lucia and Spain as her favorite destinations — has been focused on completing her master’s in public administration from Marist College in the Hudson Valley, which she expects to complete in May.
After she graduates, the sole focus will be settling into her new role and growing the department, Hillard-Bouldin said.
But Hillard-Bouldin is stepping into the role at a time when the need for social services has increased dramatically due to the pandemic and when soaring inflation has impacted the price on everything from groceries, rent and utilities.
The agency is also dealing with a shortage of caseworkers and other public-facing employees who help register residents for supplemental nutrition benefits, find emergency housing and carry out routine welfare inspections.
While the challenges are nothing new for the department, they have been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic, according to Hillard-Bouldin, who noted the agency has not yet been forced to curtail services.
Still, she said she’s committed to addressing the staffing shortage, adding the county has hired a marketing firm to help develop ways to promote the openings and raise awareness about how rewarding the demanding job can be.
“We are continuing to work and are pushing right through. We are constantly hiring and bringing people in,” Hillard-Bouldin said. “There’s a need, but it’s not quite effecting the community that we’re serving.”
The Department of Social Services employs more than 200, and oversees a number of vital services that impact thousands of county residents annually, including those pertaining to emergency services, housing, child and adult services and domestic violence, among others.
Hillard-Bouldin has had her hand in nearly all facets of work, having served previously as the associate commissioner of social services for a year. Prior to that position, she was the director of organizational development and the director of temporary assistance, adult protective services and homeless services — a role in which she helped people find housing at the height of the pandemic.
“I knew when I met her, that she just had an innate ability to be able to lead,” Brady said. “She was the kind of person who just took charge of a situation and you knew she was going to be able to get it accomplish and she was going to do very well with it.”
Homelessness and a lack of affordable housing continue to be among the highest of needs for county residents, according to Hillard-Bouldin.
She said it’s vital that the county continue its partnerships with local organizations to provide support, adding that she believes good progress was made under her predecessor.
“I’m looking forward to continue training and developing new employees, new staff members and just really trying to cater to what the need of the community is as far as services,” Hillard-Bouldin said.
Contact reporter Chad Arnold at: [email protected] or by calling 518-395-3120.