Doing the Most Good: Patricia O'Hara

The United States Census Bureau recently released its annual report. It offers dismal news. One in six U.S. citizens lives in poverty.  In case you’re wondering, that’s an annual income of $22,314 or below for a family of four.

This cycle of poverty is directly related to almost all of our societal woes: addiction, crime, violence, poor education, homelessness and hunger – just to name the most obvious.

For more than 130 years the Salvation Army has focused its energies on helping people break that cycle of poverty.

Patricia O’Hara, development director with the local Salvation Army chapter is proud of the many programs her organization offers. “We are interested in helping the whole community, and our services range from working with youth to housing the homeless,” she says. She also states that 83 cents of every $1 raised locally (by such means as the bell-ringers during the holidays) goes to helping people living in New Orleans.

The Salvation Army's four-story building on South Claiborne Avenue offers housing for up to 200 people. The organization also offers emergency family services and provides emergency rent or utility payments; transportation services such as bus tokens, passes or tickets; and referral services to other community programs.

One of the programs Patricia takes a great deal of pride in is Emerge, which works with middle school students to encourage and reward their perfect attendance and good conduct. “Last year we worked with 1,000 students from 16 different schools,” she says. “The youths received passes to the zoo, tickets to Hornets games and participated in our Christmas celebration. The kids really take pride in their accomplishments. And we know if a child stays in school, [he or she] will learn.”

Patricia has spent a lifetime helping faith-based organizations achieve their missions and finds her job inspirational. “I see people on a daily basis who because they have a place to live find some joy and a sense of belonging,” she says. “So many of them have felt tossed aside by society. Here they find hope. It’s very satisfying work that I do.”

There is a waiting list to receive housing, but once families or individuals enter the facility, they can stay as long as needed to rebuild their lives. There is a fee, generally 3 percent of their income, and often churches provide vouchers for those in the most critical need. The facility offers a wide variety of services to help residents keep their stays short as they move toward permanent housing. “It is so difficult for people to negotiate the transition from homelessness to permanent housing,” says Salvation Army social worker Vanessa Barbain. “We offer that transitional place and help connect them to resources and services to help them achieve their goals.”

The Salvation Army also offers a wide variety of disaster relief services. Recently, its canteen food truck, The Chief, hit the road to serve more than 100 meals to people affected by Tropical Storm Lee.

Patricia says that many volunteers help make positive differences in the lives of their clients, but one stands out for her. “We have one volunteer, a successful hairstylist, who offers free haircuts to our residents,” she says. “It helps them feel good about themselves and prepares them for such things as job interviews. This woman was once a resident here.”

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