MANSFIELD -- Sharlene Neumann has never felt better.
The director of Richland County Jobs and Family Services celebrated 40 years with the agency this month, but she has no plans to slow down.
There’s too much work to be done.
“I was 21 when I walked through the door,” Neumann said. “Time goes by so fast. Everybody says that and it couldn't be more true, because I still think I'm that 21-year-old.”
Neumann sees several community challenges left to tackle -- from homelessness to job training. But all that hard work was put on pause Tuesday, when colleagues from across the county surprised her with a 40th anniversary party.
“Sharlene is a mainstay in the community," said Joe Trolian, executive director of the Richland County Mental Health and Recovery Services Board. “She’s always willing to sit down and discuss any issue.”
Colleagues described Neumann as a connector. Just as RCJFS connects residents to services, Neumann connects service providers to each other -- paving the way for community collaboration.
Her knack for bringing others together was evident even at her surprise party.
"This is a wonderful community. It really is," Neumann said. “I've got a couple different groups here and I can't wait to introduce you guys to each other.”
Neumann began her career with RCJFS as a social service worker in October 1981.
“When I started, we had everything was paper, pencil," she said. "There were no calculators, there were no copy machines. Everything was carbon paper.”
Neumann established the agency's union and served as its president from 1987 to 1988. She was then promoted to social program administrator and later program administrator. During that time, she saw the agency through major changes in state and federal law regarding social services.
"From when I started in 1981 to 1996, it was an entitlement. So if you walked in the door and you had a certain level of income, you got your benefits," she explained. "The Clinton administration changed all that."
"All the federal program language, the Ohio Revised Code changed and people had to get jobs in order to be receiving their food assistance and their cash," she said.
Neumann was promoted to the executive director of RCJFS in 2005. She said one of the accomplishments she's most proud of is the First Call 2-1-1 program, which RCJFS launched with the Mansfield-Richland County Public Library.
Another is the Workforce Investment Board, which uses federal dollars to train residents with the skills employers need.
“Our whole agency is about helping and getting you self-sufficient," Neumann said.
Richland County Commissioner Tony Vero presented Neumann with a proclamation in honor of her service.
He described Neumann as a friend, mentor and the godmother of the community.
“If I ever have a question as to who or what or how things came to be in Richland County, Sharlene knows everything," Vero said.
Neumann is well-known for being a driving force who isn't afraid to say what needs to be said.
“I go to her office once every two weeks and she tells me particularly where I am screwing up and what we as a board need to be doing," Vero said. "And she does in the form of a sticky note.”
Teresa Alt, director of the Richland County Youth and Family Council, said Neumann has mentored many women over the course of her career.
“She gives good advice," Alt said. "Sharlene has a great sense of humor. She's a lot of fun to be around, but she's also very strategic and very smart. She can go back and forth just as quick as you can keep up with her.”
But while others came together to celebrate her, Neumann was focused outward -- thanking the coworkers, family and local officials who have helped her along the way.
“I’m very blessed and proud of the community I live in, particularly the social service family," she said. "We all work together so well.”
Neumann credited her faith and the support of county government with her ability to continuing serving after 40 years. The county commissioners recently offered Neumann and two other long-serving colleagues retire-rehire contracts.
“Who can say no to that?" Neumann said. "I do want to thank the board because I am not ready to give up what we do as a community."