Cindy Underwood directs DHSPublished 10:37pm Monday, January 9, 2012
CASSOPOLIS — From 1973, when she worked for Herbert Phillipson during her senior year of high school through a co-op program, until 1997, Department of Human Services Director Cindy Underwood worked in law offices.
“I worked for Dan French for 14 years as a paralegal,” she said Monday.
Social work “is my second career. I was 41 when I switched over and came here. Now I need to find out what I want to do when I grow up.
“When I went to IUSB (after a pre-law associate degree from Southwestern Michigan College) and said I wanted to go to law school, my adviser said don’t just do criminal justice, so I got a public affairs degree with a criminal justice concentration. I took lots of city planning and finance as well as forensics.
“When I switched over to the state and went into Children’s Protective Services, it was an area I really enjoyed. CPS investigation is much more law enforcement than it is social work with doing petitions and being in court, but if you’re a mother, you’re a social worker and if you’re in law enforcement you’re a social worker to some extent.
“I went to the career center down in Elkhart for pre-med stuff. It was a fluke that I got a job in Herb Phillipson’s office. I had to teach myself to type because I’d never taken a typing or shorthand class. I worked for Charlie LaSata in Niles when the (Berrien County) judge was little. I worked at legal aid when Notre Dame interns came up to the courthouse and for Tom Policinski. I helped close John Pendergrass’ office with (former U.S. attorney and Cass County prosecutor Margaret Chiara).”
Underwood, of Cassopolis, has been married to Sheriff Joe Underwood for 23 years. They have four children — her two sons and his two daughters — and a grandson, 6.
Michigan Department of Human Services Director Maura Corrigan, the former Supreme Court justice who dedicated the Law and Courts Building in 2004, appointed Underwood director of DHS field offices serving Cass and St. Joseph counties, making her responsible for 128 employees.
Underwood had been serving as acting director since Dec. 12, 2010, following Chris Kadulski’s retirement. She spends Mondays and Wednesdays in Cassopolis and Tuesdays and Thursdays in Centreville.
“We’re only dual for this agency,” she said. “We don’t share a board, so I have a DHS (three-member) board meeting here in Cass on the fourth Monday and the fourth Tuesday in Centreville. Two separate boards of commissioners, two different Councils on Aging, Michigan Works in St. Joseph is attached to Kalamazoo and Cass is attached to Van Buren-Berrien.”
Road commissions have a similar dual arrangement, so she and Manager Louis Csokasy joke about forming a support group for meeting overload.
Underwood, a 1974 Dowagiac Union High School graduate, has worked for DHS since 1997. Underwood joined the agency as a Child Protective Services worker.
In 2002, she was promoted to CPS/Juvenile Justice/Adult Services supervisor, a position she held for eight years.
In 2010, Underwood was promoted to second-line program manager — “I supervised the supervisors” — over all services offered in the two counties.
DSS, or the Department of Social Services, at one time was in the 1899 courthouse annex, as was the Council on Aging.
The agency was known as FIA, or Family Independence Agency, when she started. It became DHS March 15, 2005.
Underwood is actively involved in her community. She has been a Victim Witness Advocate for the Cass County Sheriff’s Office since 1994, and the cancer survivor is also a volunteer with Cass County Cancer Services.
Underwood previously served as a Relay for Life committee member, Woodlands Behavioral Health Board member and Cass County Citivan Club member.