A Way to Work Offers A Fresh Start for Those Struggling with Homelessness and Unemployment

Sep 9, 2020

Recent visitors to Levi Carter Park in Omaha may have noticed that the grounds look especially well-manicured this summer. The invasive brush edging the lake has been cut back, trees have been pruned and trimmed, and visitors can now enjoy an unobscured view of the water – all thanks to the efforts of the 12 men and women enrolled in the A Way to Work program.

Launched in 2019 as a partnership between The Salvation Army and the City of Omaha, A Way to Work employs homeless individuals two days per week in the city’s parks for a 90-day period, with transportation and lunch provided each workday. Those enrolled in the program also benefit from case management and other resources provided by The Salvation Army.

“I’m grateful this shared partnership between The Salvation Army and the City of Omaha is making such a positive impact on those suffering from homelessness, especially during these particularly challenging times,” said Major Greg Thompson, divisional leader of The Salvation Army Western Division. 

A Way to Work typically employs six participants for each 90-day period. When the COVID-19 pandemic forced the program to pause its employment portion for four months, Program Director Maryann Slack continued to work with participants to help them secure permanent employment – including one participant who transitioned from a homeless shelter to permanent housing and secured a full-time position with the U.S. Postal Service.

When A Way to Work’s employment restarted on August 4, Slack was able to double the program’s capacity from six to 12 participants until mid-December.

Jamie McPherson, 58, enrolled in A Way to Work last December after arriving from Phoenix on a Trailways bus. While living at Open Door Mission, McPherson, who is an Air Force veteran, was able to connect with a social worker at the VA, who put him in touch with Slack.

Slack helped McPherson transition to full-time employment shortly after he enrolled in A Way to Work. Unfortunately, he said, “Drinking got the best of me.” Now sober and a resident of Stephen Center, where he participates in sobriety classes three nights a week, McPherson has a second chance with A Way to Work.

“Because Jamie was only in A Way to Work a short time, he was able to re-enter the program to complete the full 90 days,” said Slack. In addition to his work at Levi Carter Park, McPherson also helps recruit participants for the program.

“I look for people who are focused on their sobriety, hardworking and ready to make a change,” he said. “Recruiting people for this program is some of the most rewarding work I’ve ever had a chance to do.”

A Way to Work serves a wide range of clients, all of whom come with diverse skills, challenges and needs. “Everyone is at a different place, so we meet people where they are,” said Slack.

Later this month, McPherson will begin a new full-time job in janitorial services at Boys Town. In the meantime, however, he is taking a moment to admire the results of his landscaping labors. “We can see the difference in how the park looks, and it feels good to know we made that difference,” he said, looking out across Carter Lake on a warm, early September day. “I’m proud of the work we’ve done here.”

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