Brian Ophus, Hubbard County’s new social services director, officially started on Jan. 6.

Originally from Bemidji, Ophus is a 2000 Bemidji High School graduate. He’s also an alum of Bemidji State University, earning a bachelor’s degree in social work in 2014.

“I want to help people in need, and so social worker was just a real natural fit,” he said. “I found a lot of satisfaction in being able to provide the people that I was serving with tools and maybe sharpening some of the tools they had in their toolbox, and then watching them go and be successful based on their own merit.”

Ophus joined the National Guard shortly after 9/11. “I’m still currently serving now,” he said. “I took a break to finish college after a couple deployments.”

Ophus is a lifetime member of the American Legion, VFW and Disabled American Veterans.

For six years, he worked for the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development in the disabled veterans outreach program. Ophus said, “It’s basically an employment counselor that helps disabled veterans make the transition and find and gain employment. As part of that role, I also worked with businesses to break down those barriers.”

About a year after getting his degree, Ophus spent two years as a social worker for Beltrami County Health and Human Services.

“I was assigned as the adult protection investigator, so I conducted investigations on reports of abuse of vulnerable adults for all of Beltrami County. I worked with the court systems on civil commitments, guardianships, conservatorships. I did do some child protection investigation, too,” he said.

After that, Ophus was hired to develop and implement an employment services program for Beltrami County. In 2016, the county opted to create an in-house program rather than contracting with Rural Minnesota Concentrated Employment Program (CEP).

Over the course of three years, Ophus said “we “successfully reduced the number of individuals that were on long-term public assistance. It worked out really well. The business community in our region has been very, very receptive to working with individuals that have these types of barriers.”

Last year, Ophus was part of a team that implemented a centralized in-take area for Beltrami County social services, reducing client frustration and improving efficiency.

“Oftentimes, people on these programs are at the lowest point or hardest point in their lives, so by making everything easier, more convenient, it really helped reduce stress,” he said. “The cool thing is Hubbard County already has that here. The intake area on the second floor already does that. We are already ahead of the game.”

As for goals for the Hubbard County Social Service Department, “I want to make life easier for the people we’re serving,” Ophus said.

He praised the county’s “amazing” staff for their caring and dedication.