He guided reorganization and improvement of the systems that serve neediest
Through the tenure of five county executives and six Board of Supervisors chairmen, Deputy County Executive Verdia Haywood has guided the continual reorganization and improvement of the systems that serve the county’s neediest residents. “It’s a journey, not a series of tasks,” Haywood said.
Those who have worked alongside Haywood during this “journey” said his pending retirement in mid-January will mark the end of an era.
“His retirement will be a significant loss to the county,” said Kevin Bell, who has led Fairfax County’s Human Services Council for more than 20 years. “Hopefully, he’s laid the groundwork so [his work] will continue through his successors.”
For his significant contributions as the “architect” of the county’s human services delivery system, his willingness to partner with nonprofits in a mutually beneficial way and his vision in guiding major county initiatives such as the 10-year Plan to End Homelessness, Haywood is the Fairfax County Times’ Citizen of the Year for 2009.
“He has really worked his whole career to make government work better and bring community into partnership with government, and he really, really believes in that,” said Kerrie Wilson, president and chief executive officer of Reston Interfaith, one of the organizations that nominated Haywood for a Best of Reston award this year. “There isn’t anything that he hasn’t touched in terms of redesigning the human service delivery system.”
Haywood, a 61-year-old Oakton resident, first became interested in government service while attending still-segregated schools in the small town of Water Valley, Miss. Living through the civil rights era as a black teenager in the south, Haywood experienced the best and the worst of government.
“We felt at that time that the best was the federal government,” Haywood said. “The state and local government was anti almost anything that would lead to the advancement of blacks. … I wanted to be a part of that government that was an asset.”
Haywood joined the Fairfax County government in 1978 as executive assistant to then County Executive Jay Lambert, after earning his undergraduate and graduate degrees and working in budget management for Richmond for seven years.
He initially expected that he would move on to a different municipality within another seven years or so, a common career path for municipal administrators. In 1981, however, Haywood was appointed deputy county executive for human services, a new position that Lambert created, and the job became a natural fit for him.
“For me — my personality, my belief structure — this was ideal for me,” Haywood said.
At the time he started, social services delivery in the county was at a critical juncture. There were multiple systems providing services, each with its own governance structure. At the same time, it was clear that the county was entering a period of rapid growth, becoming more diverse and more urban, Haywood recalled.
Officials decided that “we’ve got to incorporate human services more in the mainstream of county government,” he said.
Haywood was given a blueprint of how the new organization should look and charged with making it come together, a task that included converting some governing boards to an advisory role and consolidating more than a dozen different departments to focus on six service areas. What Fairfax now calls “human services” encompasses public health clinics, housing needs, homeless services, social work, foster care and adoption, mental health services, aid to senior citizens and more.
“My role was not just to sort of oversee these multiple agencies, but to create a system,” Haywood said. “We’re a family-oriented community. We wanted to focus on healthy families, healthy children.”
New county services were launched as new concerns cropped up in a changing county, such as when the county saw its first homeless population develop in the late 1980s. While it was a new challenge, it also represented a turning point in that it began to bring faith-based service groups into partnership with the county — a relationship that Haywood has continued to nourish.
“He’s brought a vision and patience and dedication to provide human services delivery in an efficient and cost-effective way,” Bell said of Haywood.
Haywood’s strength is in getting key players sitting around a table and talking through a problem, said Supervisor Catherine M. Hudgins (D-Hunter Mill), chairman of the Board of Supervisors Human Services Committee.
“He’s always seeking out a creative way to find a solution to the problem,” Hudgins said.
Interfaith’s Wilson describes Haywood as “a force.”
“Verdia walks into the room … he’s got this force and this presence and you just know he’s going to make a difference,” she said.
Partnering with nonprofits has always been a key part of Haywood’s approach to delivering services, an approach that has gone beyond contracting out the operation of services such as homeless shelters. For example, the county has held annual conferences to help nonprofits improve their operations, Wilson said.
“He found ways to bring the community together and that, to me, is what makes Fairfax special,” Hudgins said. “There are all kinds of folks out there who do excellent work. … But I think Verdia recognizes that he is in Fairfax County, and there are challenges and opportunities that come with that. He puts them together to do the very best that we can.”
(Editor’s note: Verdia Haywood is the son of Mr. and Mrs. Percy Haywood, Sr. and brother of Percey Haywood, all of Water Valley.)