Fields retires after years of helping others

Published 12:00 am Friday, January 21, 2011

By Karissa Minn
The director of the Salisbury-Rowan Community Action Agency retires today after more than 38 years of a career in serving others.
Elizabeth Fields said Wednesday she has mixed emotions about leaving the agency.
“I’m looking forward to traveling and visiting my family and friends,” Fields said. “But at the same time, I’ll very much miss interacting with the staff, clients and people in general.”
She said she has loved watching the agency grow and seeing “clients no longer have to be clients.” Fields enjoys watching them graduate, get jobs through the Workforce Investment Act program or rise out of poverty through the agency’s self-sufficiency program.
“Some of the people employed in Head Start used to attend Head Start,” she said, referring to the educational program for children from low-income families.
Fields said one of the hardest parts of her job has been seeing people in need that the agency can’t help — even through referrals to other organizations.
“But you feel so good when you have helped,” Fields said, “like when a student graduates from college — when you’ve helped somebody succeed.”
Fields was the director of the Head Start program for 30 years starting in 1972. With her at the helm, the Head Start program grew from one county and 50 employees to five counties — adding Davidson, Montgomery, Moore and Stanly counties — and about 250 employees. It now serves more than 1,000 children.
“I watched Ms. Fields drive up and down the highway, going to counties where other Head Start programs were in trouble,” said Mike Edgerton, a transportation unit manager with the agency. “Since she was running such a grand program here, they called on her to take on all this responsibility. ”
Edgerton said Fields has been “monumental” in his own life for the 30 years he’s been at the agency.
“She built buildings, and she also built people — helping build esteem and character in them,” Edgerton said.
Yvonne Moore, a case manager with the agency’s self-sufficiency program, said Fields leads by example.
“I imagine a lot of young ladies and men want to follow in her footsteps,” she said.
Moore, who has worked with the agency for 20 years, said Fields isn’t afraid to “tell it like it is” to motivate people, but she also encourages them with kind words.
“Ms. Fields has a unique way of solving every problem that comes up,” Moore said. “We know she’s going to get things done, and if something comes up, she’ll take care of it in her way.”
In 2003, Fields became executive director of the Community Action Agency. She has been responsible for making sure that each of the agency’s programs is running smoothly and following rules and regulations specified in the grants that fund them.
She has received a number of recognitions and awards for her work there, including the Order of the Long Leaf Pine in 2004 and the Key to the city of Salisbury last year.
A drop-in reception in her honor will be held today from 5 to 8 p.m. at the Salisbury Depot.
Fields was born and raised in Lexington. She graduated from Livingstone College with a bachelor’s degree in sociology and went on to earn a Master of Business Administration at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte.
“I always knew I was going to be a social worker,” Fields said. “I knew my goal was to help other people.”
She was serving as the director of the Miller Recreation Center before coming on board with the Community Action Agency as the Head Start director.
Fields said she is proud of all the good work the agency has done over the years and will continue to do.
“Things are going well here, and the organization has a strong board,” she said. “I feel like this is the right time. … When you feel like you’ve done basically all you can do here, it’s time to try something else.”
Fields is looking forward to traveling to see her family — including her two children — and doing some volunteer work.
She is involved with several community organizations and activities and plans to continue that involvement.
After leaving the agency, Fields said she hopes to “be remembered as a person who tried to make a difference and help somebody.”
Often, that “somebody” has not only included the agency’s clients but also its employees and anyone else she met.
Robert Payne, who works in maintenance for the agency, said Fields helped him work through bad times in his life and never gave up on him.
“She just builds you up and tries to help you become the best you, and I greatly appreciate that,” Payne said. “I’ve been here five years, and that’s the longest I’ve held down any job.”
When asked how he felt about Fields leaving, he answered the same way as several other employees.
“I’m really sad to see her go,” Payne said. “But everybody knows she deserves this.”
Contact reporter Karissa Minn at 704-797-4222.