Eileen Hayes, president and CEO of Amos House for the past 11 years, maneuvers through the crowded waiting room of the South Providence social service agency.
Every one of the dozen chairs is taken, while more needy people mill about the corridor near the doorway. They wait for assistance with life problems of both an acute and chronic nature, from homelessness to joblessness, from overdue heating bills to a lack of employable skills.
“The majority of folks here at Amos House were homeless,” Hayes tells a visitor. “What we’re seeing, too, is a large increase in the number of people on the brink of homelessness. There are a lot of people who are not necessarily homeless but are struggling financially.”
The people in the waiting room that day – whom Hayes and other staffers call “guests” rather than clients – were among approximately 15,000 that Amos House, with a $4-million operating budget and staff of 55 employees, helped this past year.
She makes sure, Hayes says, that everyone is treated with dignity and respect. “You have to believe in the inherent ability of people to do the right thing given the opportunity,” she said.
A native New Yorker, Hayes has a master’s degree in social work from New York University and worked for 15 years running programs for teenage mothers and fathers at the New York City YWCA. She is a mother of four.
For a while, she ran her own private counseling practice, and was asked to join the board of directors of Amos House in Providence. At the time, the agency had a $500,000 annual operating budget and its main mission was to help the homeless.
Founded in 1976 by the late Sister Eileen Murphy, a member of the Roman Catholic Sisters of Mercy, Amos House at the time was perhaps best known for its soup kitchen, which today remains the largest in the state, serving 500 to 800 meals every day, Hayes said. The agency was named for the Old Testament prophet Amos, who stood for social justice.
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