By Emily Hamann
The Bellingham Business Journal
When Emily O’Connor took over as executive director at Lydia Place four years ago, the organization was in trouble. For the two years prior, the agency had run a deficit of nearly $250,000 and that was with a $400,000 budget.
Since O’Connor stepped in, the organization has gotten back in the black and built up some reserves, all while tripling the operating budget and adding new programs.
Just recently, the organization, which works to provide housing and end homelessness, teamed up with Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault Services of Whatcom County to create Baker Place, which will provide seven apartments and 14 beds for victims of domestic violence and sexual assault who are experiencing homelessness.
“It’s been a wild ride,” O’Connor said. “But fun and very rewarding.”
It wasn’t her time turning around a struggling nonprofit.
When she was just 25, she took over as head of Skagit Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault Services in 2008 and made that financially stable as well. Around the same time, she was developing Whatcom County’s Court Appointed Special Advocate Program, which trains and sets up volunteers to advocate for children in the foster care system. She still does the training for that program.
“I really feel like the only way for me to be happy is to feel like I’m contributing and making things better for everyone,” O’Connor said.
She’s now aimed her efforts at not just getting people off the streets, but ending the circumstances that cause people to become homeless in the first place. In particular, she has a passion for helping kids.
“Now that I’m a mother, it’s even harder to look at my kids and think about children sleeping in cars at night,” she said. “I have a lot of compassion for not just the kids but the parents trying to do the best they can.”
Helping out parents and supporting the children with services is the best way to end the cycle of homelessness, she said.
“Children are always a good investment.”