Heather Horldt Baker – Class of 1992
Social Worker, Gaston County Public Schools

In order to meet the needs of students in this modern society, the public school system must branch out beyond instruction, sports, and clubs. Social work is a vital service designed to help students and families. Heather Horldt Baker serves as a social worker at the elementary and middle school level in the Gaston County School system and plays an important role in the lives of students and families.

She explains, “School Social Workers provide services to students and their families to address and eliminate barriers affecting students' academic success. We address issues related to attendance, homelessness, child abuse and neglect and serve families during crisis situations. We work collaboratively with school staff and community agencies to help improve the welfare of our students. Home visits and family meetings are conducted to enhance lines of communication between the home and school. What I enjoy most about my job is being able to make connections and building relationships with students and families.

“Oftentimes, I work with families in crisis who are coping with extreme circumstances. It is rewarding to partner with families and provide compassionate and practical help. The most challenging aspect is not being able to ‘fix’ or solve all the problems and issues families face. The issues can appear so immense and cyclical, and it can be discouraging. Focusing on the connections I make with people, even when I can't solve every problem, does help.

“I was drawn to social work to make a difference and to help people. After 25 years of practicing social work, I have learned the reality that there are no easy solutions to many of the issues families encounter. But I have learned compassion and kindness do make a difference. Treating others with dignity and respect leads to connections, which last longer than even the most difficult moments.”

Heather received a Bachelor of Science degree in Social Work from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro and her certification in School Social Work from N.C. State. “I started my career in Child Protective Services. As a young, inexperienced social worker, I quickly learned if I could survive working two and half years in CPS, I could move to other areas without difficulty. I spent 14 wonderful years as a Social Worker at J. Iverson Riddle Developmental Center, formerly known as Western Carolina Center, in Morganton prior to joining Gaston County Schools in 2008."

Heather’s success was recognized in 2017, when she was chosen as Gaston County Schools Social Worker of the Year.

“In high school, I was greatly influenced and encouraged by Mrs. Anne Stephens. I will always appreciate her insight and wisdom in recommending me, a shy and quiet student, to the Yearbook Staff. I believe she knew it would be a good way for me to gain some confidence and make some new friends. And, she was right!

“After 25 years in the field of Social Work my eyes are set on retirement in a few short years. I will continue working, and I admit it is fun to imagine a job where the responsibilities are a bit lighter and the crises are few and far between. However, my years as a Social Worker have made it clear: I will still feel a responsibility to do what I can for our community through volunteering and advocating for children and families.”

Published April 2022

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