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Six weeks into her tenure as director of the Charles County Department of Social Services, Therese Wolf is looking to increase the agency’s public profile and make it a bigger part of the community it serves.

A native of North Chicago, Ill., Wolf spent five years as manager of the foster care and adoption program with the Virginia Department of Social Services before assuming her current post Nov. 7.

But Wolf decided she wanted to work on the local level as opposed to dealing with statewide issues from Richmond, Va. In her job search, she stumbled across an advertisement for social services director in Charles County, where a prominent U.S. Navy presence and proximity to both a major city and bodies of water reminded Wolf of her hometown, which sits about 40 miles north of Chicago, borders Lake Michigan and hosts the Great Lakes Naval Training Center, home of the U.S. Navy’s lone boot camp.

“I decided I wanted to be closer to a community as opposed to dealing with things at a state level, and Charles County is a lot like where I grew up — military presence, diverse community, it’s about the same size as the community where I grew up, and it’s a growing community,” she said.

Initially, Wolf said she found the agency to be in pretty decent shape upon her arrival.

“One of things that I really did learn is that it really is a solid agency, but there’s always room to improve,” Wolf said. “It less dealing with ... crises day in and day out, but looking at ways that we can become more efficient.”

Her first weeks on the job have been spent getting to know her new co-workers at the department’s La Plata office.

“I’m meeting with every one of the staff, and there are about 140 people here. I think the thing I enjoy most right now is meeting with them,” Wolf said. “I feel like my learning curve is not so difficult because of meeting with staff, so I’m finding that to be the highlight of my days.”

Wolf said the department just finished putting together a 90-day plan “to really identify areas where we can improve services.”

“I use data a lot to find out where we excel and where we don’t,” she said.

Specifically, Wolf and her staff have begun discussing ways to increase the agency’s visibility and better market its services, beginning with a website and making information available online, she said.

Wolf also plans to begin meeting with customer groups, such as older youth in foster care, during the next couple of months to find out what they need from the agency.

“I want to hear from the community about ways we can improve,” she said. “I think they’re looking forward to the agency becoming even more of a community partner, and just overall looking for areas where we can be more responsive to customers.”

Wolf currently is living with a friend in Waldorf and is taking special care to find the right spot to settle down in the county.

“I made the decision that if I was going to work here, I was going to be a part of the community,” she said.

jnewman@somdnews.com