Health and HUman Services System The Connection

December 21, 2009

Sue Swift: 40 Years of Service in Rehabilitation, Civil Rights

Sue Swift: 40 Years of Service in Rehabilitation, Civil RightsName: Barbara Sue Swift
Agency: DARS / Division of Rehabilitation Services (Round Rock)
What’s your current job?
I’m a Vocational Rehabilitation Counselor IV, the highest rank a counselor can reach in their career. Vocational rehabilitation counselors provide one-on-one, job-related counseling and guidance to the eligible people who are disabled in Texas to help them reach their successful employment outcome. We like to think of it as taking people off Social Security, unemployment and welfare rolls and placing them on payrolls. We provide a variety of services based on individual need. If it will lead to employment, we can usually get it done. We work with all disabilities, except loss of sight. 

What was your first job with the state?
I started my career working at the Austin State Hospital. The Texas Rehabilitation Commission (now DARS) was housed on the hospital grounds at this time. My first day on the job was spent trying to convince my co-workers that I had not escaped from one of the mental wards. They kept telling me to please return to my ward or they would be forced to call security. Finally, the supervisor called and confirmed my status as a new hire on Oct. 1, 1969.

In 1972, I was asked to take over the drug addiction caseload with MH-MR and the methadone maintenance program. That was the most difficult program I have ever worked in but, after my second year, I was the number one counselor in the state in drug rehabilitation. I helped to open “Rebuild Halfway House” for substance abuse.

Counselors needed to have a master’s degree to move up the ladder. Back in those days, we had no assistance with higher education; we had to get our master’s on our own. We had to make up the time off to attend classes by coming in early and having 30-minute lunches. When I finished my master’s degree at the University of Texas at Austin, I was working a caseload, taking care of my husband and son, and was pregnant with my second son.

I got a job as a program specialist for civil rights in 1980 with G.V. Clark. I view this as my proudest time and my most productive period. I worked very hard to change the complexion of this agency by recruiting statewide, providing civil rights training across the state and providing consultation to managers and directors to assist them with legal and management decisions. During my eight years in the Office of Civil Rights, I was elected to serve as the first African American president of Chapter 127 of the Texas Public Employees Association.

What do you remember most about that first year that didn’t have anything to do with your job?
The nation was at war in Vietnam and in a terrible state of affairs. We had a number of service men returning with post traumatic stress disorder, depression and substance abuse issues. We had to expand our programs to meet this growing need.

Who was your most memorable supervisor (other than your current supervisor) — and why?
In 1992, I went to work in Programs Administration with Rick Phelan. You never had to wonder what Rick was thinking. I worked with him on federal and state legislation issues, audit review and Rehab Net (the commissioner’s interstate e-mail for DARS). He gave me the opportunity to represent the agency on the Texas Collation for the Homeless. My favorite supervisor, however, was Tonya Morgan-Evans because she also is my friend. Tonya is like a ray of sunshine on a cloudy day.

I have been very fortunate to have a number of outstanding supervisors in my career. We didn’t have many black employees in the early days. I was assigned to George Small, an excellent vocational rehabilitation counselor and ever better mentor. Dr. Margaret Sedberry was the director of the Travis Unit at Austin State Hospital, and we became fast friends.

Sue Swift’s anniversary with the state was Dec. 1.