MASS Spotlight: A Way to Work
According to the National Alliance to End Homelessness, more than 1,400 people are struggling with homelessness on any given day in the Omaha metro. Such was the case for Jamie McPherson, 58, an Air Force veteran who ended up at the Open Door Mission after relocating to Omaha from Phoenix. “Drinking got the best of me, and I lost my job,” he explained. After enrolling in a recovery program and gaining sobriety, McPherson connected with the A Way to Work Program.
Launched in 2019 as a partnership between The Salvation Army’s Material Assistance and Seasonal Services (MASS) program 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.
In addition to the part-time employment, those enrolled in the program also benefit from case management and other resources provided by The Salvation Army, including resume development and job search assistance.
“Participants in the program are also gaining soft skills such as how to be a team player and work with others, how to communicate with co-workers and supervisors and how to show up for work on time,” said Program Director Maryann Slack.
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 beginning in March, Slack continued to work with participants to help them pursue other opportunities for employment. When A Way to Work restarted on August 4, the program’s capacity doubled from six to 12 participants until mid-December.
This past summer, McPherson and 11 other program participants worked on beautifying Levi Carter Park – pruning trees, cutting back invasive brush and weeds that blocked the view of the water and collecting and disposing trash. “Residents around the lake were thrilled with the improvement,” said McPherson. “They made a point to come by to thank us for our efforts.”
A Way to Work has seen success with its graduates. McPherson, for instance, recently landed a full-time job in janitorial services at Boys Town. Another recent graduate secured a full-time position with the U.S. Postal Service and was able to transition from a homeless shelter to permanent housing. For others, successfully completing the program helps to instill confidence and boost self-esteem.
“This program helped me realize that I’m still valuable as a worker," said Duane Dominick, who graduated from A Way to Work in May 2019. “It helped me a lot.”
The Salvation Army’s MASS program provides assistance when times are tough by offering clothing, household items, help paying for prescription medications, utility assistance and seasonal services. Our goal is to help those who are struggling stay afloat until financial stability can be achieved. For more information about MASS, visit our Burrows Center for Help and Hope website.