She’s a slim wisp of a woman quite at home at this place where she is employed, although Eileen Hayes would never call what she does every day “work” because she is so deeply committed to it. Helping others has long been her way of life.
Hayes, president and CEO of Amos House, maneuvers through the crowded waiting room of the South Providence social-service agency on a recent Monday afternoon. 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.
Hayes has a greeting and smile for each, a hug for some and a chiding word of warning to others (such as the man with a pet rabbit, forbidden at Amos House, half-hidden in the hood of his coat). 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 with seven brothers and sisters, whose parents came to this country from Ireland with little education, 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. The mother of four children, she came to Rhode Island when her husband undertook graduate work at the University of Rhode Island.