Roosevelt Winters is a communicator. He’s willing to lend an ear to someone in need of venting or offer up one of the numerous Bible verses he has stored in his head.
Engaging him in a conversation, it’s easy to see how he thrived in corporate customer service for 10 years, with his level head and natural knack for resolution.
Despite all of that success, he never received more satisfaction from helping customers than during his recent stint as an intern with Newton County as assistant to County Clerk Jackie Smith.
"Dealing with county residents, because those are your customers, that sparked me. I said, ‘This is beautiful,’ (because I knew) what takes place behind the scenes," Winters said. "I had no idea about zoning committees and commissioners, or how vital it is to assist your local county and local residents. I liked that and looked forward to it."
Winters has a 20-year professional career behind him, but the 43-year-old is going back to school to finish a bachelor’s degree he started in 1985. The Association of County Commissioners of Georgia’s first county internship program was simply another part of Winter's continuing education and a chance for him to make some money to pay for books and other school expenses. It turned out to be much more.
"I never thought I would meet the people I met or build these relationships. Now I look forward to staying in Newton County and trekking to Atlanta (if I have to)," said Winters, who is applying for jobs locally.
As with many recent transplants, Winters and his wife, Deborah, lived Atlanta-centric lives, knowing little about Newton County except that it had nice, inexpensive homes on large tracts on land. When Winters moved to Newton County in 2004, he worked in customer service for Cardinal Health, an Atlanta-based health care products and pharmaceutical provider
"He was very good at taking on a problem and getting it resolved. I was always looking for someone with a positive, uplifting attitude," said Dave Windham, a former director of sales at Cardinal.
Windham transferred Winters to his Atlanta team because Winters displayed integrity.
"He was going to do the right thing, whether or not it was the popular thing. I never had to worry about him cutting corners or doing anything unethical or illegal," Windham said. "Some people have situational ethics…he wasn’t one of those people."
Winters transferred to another department a couple of years later, and then an economic-driven restructuring cost him his job. That’s when Winters pursued a lifelong dream to finish his degree.
He attended Tougaloo College in Jackson, Miss., for three years in the late 80s, but dwindling finances and the birth of his first child forced him into the workforce. His father, also named Roosevelt, was an electrician who never attended college, while his mother, Freddie, attended Mississippi Valley State University for two years.
"I knew it was important to go to college. College or military were the only two options," he said.
Winters is finishing work on a bachelor’s in business management through Shorter University’s professional development program. He will graduate in February."It means the world to me. Starting out, fresh out of high school, my parents always wanted us to go to college. We did that; my sister finished, I didn’t. I’ve had those unresolved expectations from my parents’ standpoint. That would be the greatest accomplishment for me in regard to my parent-child relationship," Winters said. "My mom is still living…finishing my degree was everything."
Despite having a successful 20-year career to his name, Winters always felt the lack of a degree was a hole on his resume and he’s excited to fill it. Now, he’s looking for work, whether it’s with a local government, in customer service or in education, where he has a minor.
Regardless, he now feels complete and like he’s a part of a larger community.
"Building that relationship with Ms. Jackie (was the best part). She’s a beautiful person, and she’s been with the county for 16 years. She’s very knowledgeable and at the same time has built good relationships herself, and that expanded my relationships," he said. "She’s authentically Ms. Jackie every day and I thank God for her."
He hopes that his story will inspire other adult workers who never completed a degree or are considering a change in life.
For her part, Smith said she will miss Winters’ loving attitude and his help preparing presentations and scanning around 3,000 pages of former county documents into a digital system.
"I could never thank him enough for that; he’s made this clerk’s life much easier," she said.