PULASKI COUNTY, Va. (WDBJ) -- The Pulaski County Department of Social Services has partnered with New River Community College to help students better understand careers in human services.
"Of course our jobs are very difficult during these times," one of the speakers told the group of about 25.
Katherine Shirah from Giles County is in her second year with NRCC and says the forum was a beneficial experience.
"You get to hear people that have actually experienced things so I think that's really important," Shirah said.
It also gives employers an opportunity to show students why they should stick with the program till graduation.
"It's something that you can actually have a job, you can actually be productive in a career and make a difference at the same time," Bonnie Graham, the program head of Human Services and Early Childhood at the community college, said.
Many of the New River students are perfect candidates for local jobs because they're from the area.
"When students are from the New River Valley or from Pulaski County, they're more likely to stick around because they have family," Jill Willams, a consultant for the Department of Social Services, said. "And I think they're almost more likely to understand the culture here and to be to meet the needs therefore of the clients they're working with."
Retention is one of the biggest challenges within the DSS.
"People find out pretty quickly that this might not be the job for them," Margie Bryant, a Benefits Programs Supervisor, said.
She explained that a job in human services can be difficult and emotionally draining at time, but after 32 years, she said it's also rewarding.
"I've lived in Pulaski County my whole life and so these are the citizens of the county that I live in," Bryant said. "Hopefully, the work that we're doing here can help them make a better life for themselves."
It also makes life better for the whole community.
"One thing I've learned since working at DSS is just how critical DSS benefits are to the Pulaski County community," Williams added.
Last year the department distributed over $67 million in benefits in Pulaski County alone.
"A lot of that money ends up getting invested back in this community through grocery stores and medical health care facilities," Williams said.
And the circle starts with recruiting and retaining quality employees.
"One of the speakers said that she saw an area in need and she wanted to do something," Shirah said. "And I kind of feel the same way. I want to do something for my hometown where I grew up."