Working for the Department of Social Services, Helen was on the front lines of seeing the best and the worst Detroit had to offer.
The best? Helen will readily admit working as a civil servant that she was part of a great environment that promoted the empowerment of women and minorities.
The worst? As a caseworker for 15 years before spending 20 years in management, she saw the inefficiency and the ineffectiveness of social programs, in addition to the problems associated to Detroit’s 1967 riot.
Helen’s duties as a caseworker took her to Herman Gardens and the Jeffries Project in Detroit, making in-home visits to determine eligibility.
“It wasn’t bad when I worked there before the 1970s,” she said. “After the riots, those were the bad times. Or, as some people call it, the rebellion. It was just awful in those days.”
The pitfalls of social work
She realized the struggles people were enduring, Because the state took a while to open new cases, she also felt the efforts of Lyndon Baines Johnson’s “Great Society” push never turned out to be the fix it was presented to be.
“Look at Detroit now, the percentage of kids that can’t read or write,” Helen said. “I was going to be a teacher but then I changed my mind. I didn’t want to make paper Mache things. And I end up here and we have art class, but I love it.”
Growing up, education proved to be quite important, despite the fact her parents’ schooling stopped after the eighth grade.
“But my dad was very, very bright. He read Mark Twain, Charles Dickens. And he got my sister and me to read and we both did really well in school,” she said. Also, her sister went to college and Helen figured she could do it, too. She saved her money and after graduating Mackenzie High School in Detroit, Helen attended Wayne State University. She majored in sociology and history.
Helen is proud to point out both of her daughters attended college. One works as a physician’s assistant in New York; the other is a psychotherapist in nearby Plymouth.
A unique view of family and society
In a rather progressive family life, Helen had a pretty stable work environment while her husband was a factory worker. In fact, when he was laid off, it made more sense for him to stay home and raise Doris as a baby.
She also marched in various civil rights parade.
“I did believe in equality, long before most people, I think,” Helen said. “I’m kind of a feminist, too. I had a black woman who was a supervisor at Social Services, which was really something. The head of the department was a black man, back in the 70s. When I started in 1948, I did have a black supervisor then, a woman. And that’s really amazing. Civil service is great. I was in a very protected environment.”
After 55 years of marriage, Helen has been widowed for eight years. She admits to being a news junkie, watching CNN and MSNBC closely, as well as reading many newspapers and news magazines. Her favorite for entertainment is Turner Classic Movies “because I love old movies.”
Helen is a big fan of living at Oakmont Livonia, especially appreciating the scenery from her upstairs room.
“I have a beautiful view of the woods,” she said. “I feel like we’re up in the treetops.”