The Woodward News

Local News

June 15, 2014

Olson new director for outreach center

Woodward, Okla. — “Anyone can be thrown into homelessness."

Those are the words of Kathy Olson, the new executive director for High Plains Outreach Center, which is reopening on July 1.

"There are other disasters besides tornados and fires. There are drug and alcohol issues, job loss, and medical issues. The community needs to be aware of what we are about,” Olson added.

Olson was born and raised in Woodward. She has lived all over Oklahoma but grew up mostly in Fargo. Seven years ago she left Oklahoma for her dream job and dream place - Anchorage, Alaska. With an aging mother and other family in Woodward, she decided it was time to return home.

Olson's decision was "lucky for the High Plains Outreach Center" according to Steve Jones, board chairman.

Kathy's Mom told her about the outreach center last year.

"I was wanting to help last year with extra donations we had received in Alaska," Olson said. "I found out about this (the center closing). When I decided to move back I got in touch with one of the board members and sent my resume'. They were impressed and I started making plans for coming home."

Olson has a bachelor's degree in education and a masters in what, at that time, was called special education. She taught for six years and was principal at a private school.

"I have worked from one end of the realm to the other. I worked with individuals with developmental disabilities. I was a counselor with a community action agency in Oklahoma City. It was their drug and alcohol treatment program called Turning Point," Olson said. "I have 25 years’ experience with non-profit organizations.

"What took me to Alaska was a position grant writing for the largest non-profit in Alaska. This non-profit serves individuals with developmental disabilities. I wrote all of their grants: state, federal, and local. This allowed me to travel all over Alaska and learn their culture. After 2 1/2 years the job became stagnant. I left and went to work with the Salvation Army as a family therapist. I worked with them for 1 1/2 years. The opportunity came up to work for Alaska's most prestigious non-profit, Bean's Cafe. "

Olson said social services is a big part of Bean's Cafe and as director she ran the shelter for a little over three years.

"I managed a staff of 7 plus volunteers and we dealt with 700-1,000 people daily," Olson said. "We provided breakfast and lunch daily."

Olson was also responsible for security, which included a number of various issues.

Re-opening High Plains Outreach Center is going to be a challenge, she said.

"I come here and think, okay, we have the same issues here as Anchorage but I have to scale down my thinking," Olson said. "Everything I have done, all my experiences all came together in one big place (Bean's). Here in Woodward you never know what you are going to run into, what is going to come through that door. Everyone is unique to themselves, with their own needs and problems. Regardless of why they are homeless we need to be able to evaluate and figure out what their needs are.

"There is a large homeless issue in Woodward. People are couch surfing or sleeping in their vehicles."

Olson said she was approached by two different families this week looking for a place to stay.

Olson brought a local lawyer and a counselor on board for the center. She has four volunteers at this time but needs more. Volunteers will help monitor house guest activities. Some will do yard work and other light maintenance in the facility. One individual will be needed to man the intake desk.

Olson wants to implement several programs to aid house guests. She wants to start up two counseling groups, one for women's issues and one for men's issues.

"I don't want to feed answers to them. I want them to learn to support each other,” she said. Another project is teaching life skills such as home maintenance, balancing a check book, and organizing and paying bills.

"I am big on day labor programs. I have already prepared paperwork for the program. If someone in the community needs a yard raked or a drive shoveled, they can call, agree to pay for two hours minimum, pick up the house guest, pay them, and bring them back. Jobs could include house cleaning, yard work, and light maintenance. A lot of times this leads to a permanent position. This program will help show the community what we are all about. It will help make us a success."

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