Social Ministry Director focuses on building relationships


CHARLESTON  Social work has been a lifetime experience for Dorothy Grillo.

Her chosen career has led her on a path of caring starting with adolescents and progressing to the elderly.

That life process now culminates in a new role as diocesan Director of the Office of Social Ministry where Grillo will keep a watchful eye on services that involve young and old, rich and poor.

As a young woman who grew up in Long Island, N.Y., attending Catholic schools, Grillo was actively involved with parish activities. She went to St. Joseph’s College in West Hartford, Conn., and graduated with a degree in social work.

Her first job was at an inpatient adolescent psychiatric unit. Her next position was with a retirement community for Christian Church Homes in Kentucky.

While in the bluegrass state, she earned her master’s degree in social work from the University of Louisville and went to work for the Northern Kentucky Area Development District Council on Aging. She planned and monitored services for the elderly and home-care programs acting as a conduit for state and federal programs such as the Kentucky Department of Aging.

Grillo later moved to Cincinnati to work in adult psychiatry and for an employee assistance program. She worked her way up into the job of director of a regional employee assistance program, followed by director of behavior and health sciences, and then into director of a managed behavioral health service.

“I guess you could say that I am a dyed-in-the-wool social worker,” Grillo said. “I have always been involved in people programs.”

However, being in management positions removed this people person from direct contact with those she served and she was always aware of that breach.

Grillo and her husband, Roy Stewart, wanted to retire on the east coast and started using their vacation time to visit likely spots. They fell in love with Charleston and, in 1997, decided to take the plunge.

Stewart found a position with the Charleston Catholic School as a part-time music teacher and assistant conductor for the Charleston Symphony Orchestra chorus. He is also music director at Trinity United Methodist Church. Grillo followed and found a place working for Healthsource managing mental health utilizations for the state. Though she still worked with people, she knew when she applied for the Diocese of Charleston position that the Office of Social Ministries was a glove that fit.

“The major appeal of this job is that it is not just looking at direct service, but it is also looks at the much larger picture, it looks at systemic change,” she explained.

Her diocesan work will cover a broad range of services: coordinating the work of Catholic Charities, the Catholic Campaign for Human Development, Catholic Relief Services and working with her deanery representatives. She started Jan. 11 and has visited some ministries including the Carter-May Home.

“I have been amazed at the amount of work and people out there,” she said. “I am just starting to get a feel for the folks who do this incredible work in the diocese. It is inspiring and humbling. It helps you put things in perspective.”

Social ministries have no shortage of need. Grillo’s short-term goals include visiting the deaneries to get an understanding of what those needs are, supporting and encouraging her regional coordinators and looking at what programs can be expanded.

“Social Ministries has the potential to have a tremendous positive impact,” she said. “Every challenge corresponds as an opportunity. We are working not to be overcome with need, but toward solutions.”

Stewardship ties in with everything that office does.

“The part of stewardship beyond Time, Talent and Treasure is courage,” Grillo said. “The courage to hear the call and follow through with it. There are so many ways to do that. We are providing people with structures or mechanisms, so they can give in their own way. Yet, there exists such a variety of things people can do.”

Beyond programs, Grillo sees her job as being about people, those with whom she works and those they help.

“So much about this kind of work is relationship building,” she explained. “That’s why the coordinators are so important. That, and constantly assessing needs, is so much a part of their challenge.”

While the needs are many, Grillo has a realistic view of success. She learned that important outlook from working in geriatrics where patients don’t always remember from one moment to the next and measurements of progress sometimes can’t be taken.

“You have to be clear about what your expectations are,” she said. “If you are making differences, even for a moment, then you have done something. It takes courage to face the commitment to be involved. It is too easy to get caught up and see what we need out of a job, to get caught up in a certain kind of progress to fuel our own needs, that’s just not what it’s about.”