Edwards still looking to future after three decades leading CCS

Edwards looks to the future as she celebrates three decades leading Community Counseling Services
Ryan Phillips
Daily Times Leader

Every manager and supervisor from across Community Counseling Services’ seven-county region gathered on Friday at the former Mary Holmes College campus to celebrate three decades of leadership under one dynamic woman.

Jackie Edwards, who this past week celebrated 30 years as executive director of CCS, was the guest of honor at a party at the agency’s headquarters in West Point, which saw a wide array of handmade gifts presented and one special dedication.

As part of the anniversary, CCS staff presented Edwards with two new benches for the lake on the CCS campus, each with a plaque honoring her decades of service.

“She’s touched a lot of different people’s lives,” said CCS Chief Financial Officer Richard Duggin. “A lot of clients don’t even know who she is, but she has really affected a lot of people’s lives.”

During her time at CCS, which included five years on the CCS Commission prior to becoming executive director, the agency has grown into one of the regional leaders in promoting community-based mental health services in part by expanding on its children’s day treatment programs and introducing mental health first aid training — a first among similar regions.

Edwards’ tenure also saw the agency move onto the campus of the former Mary Holmes College, which offered new options for office and treatment space apart from the under-funded and often criticized institutions managed by the state.

“She cares about the business side and staff and tries to help us improve ourselves, which makes us better as employees,” said Stephanie Taylor, children’s services director for Lowndes County.

Taylor has worked with Edwards for 27 years and said it was that business sense that impacted her own life, especially when Edwards introduced “Financial Peace University” by Dave Ramsey — a self-improvement program geared toward promoting smart budgeting, saving and spending.

“Thank goodness I went through that … other than my house, I’m now debt-free and in less than 10 years I’ll own my house and be totally debt-free,” Taylor said. “It wouldn’t have happened if she had not brought in that program.”
And Taylor is not the only employee to benefit from Edwards’ leadership. Of the roughly 380 CCS employees, only three are still employed with the agency that worked under anyone but her.

Taylor then said had it not been for Edwards’ leadership and the work environment she so carefully fostered, she could have ended up burned out like many others in the profession — a sentiment shared by others when they told stories during the party.

“I’ve done a lot of different things in the agency, but she is open if you have an idea that can help serve the community,” Taylor said. “If you can present a decent reason why we need it, she encourages it. She’ll also admit if something doesn’t work, that’s really nice.”

Apart from improving the day-to-day work life at CCS, Edwards was also praised for her foresight and innovation in the field of mental health treatment.

“She has vision for things that a lot of times other people can’t see,” Community Counseling Services CPO Karen Frye said. “One of her greatest strengths is that she is never satisfied with the status quo, it can always be better.”
Frye said before Edwards took the helm, CCS lacked adequate services for those with intellectual and developmental disabilities, along with having nothing in the way of children’s services.

“She had such insight and seeing to the future,” Frye said. “People should be able to have access to care and she has used her career to be able to make sure that those things are available and we have nice facilities for people to come in and get services and I joke that we get to benefit from it as employees.”

Edwards was all smiles during the celebration and commended the hard work of all of those around her.

“You can change somebody’s life by what you do, and you do it every day,” she told the group. “It’s not one person that’s more important than the other, it’s all of us working together. And if there is a most important person, it’s the person that answers the phone in your office every day.”

While the day was a cause for a party, Edwards showed little complacency looking back on her 30 years and instead spoke to the future — a future where the dorms on the CCS campus are torn down to make way for a new vision for the property and CCS.

“The long-range plan is to get the dorms down and when they do, you’re going to make it a parking lot and then you’re goin to have people who want to come out here, have a wedding in the chapel,” Edwards said. “All of that is sitting there waiting to go, all you have to do is get those dorms down.”

Prior to her speech to the managers and supervisors, several CCS employees emphasized Edwards’ ability to look forward to what’s ahead, which was underscored by the goals set on her 30-year anniversary as executive director.
“This campus will be better than it’s ever been,” Edwards said. “We’re just almost there, then the worth of Community Counseling becomes so much more.”