I Am Project HOME - Owen Riordan
Owen Riordan always wanted to help people, though as a younger person, he didn’t know what that meant for his life. But he knew why: He had grown up in the Kensington neighborhood of Philadelphia. He and his family knew poverty intimately: parents struggling with addiction and mental health; regular visits to the food bank; standing in long lines for assistance; the feelings of shame and judgment. “I know how hard it can be,” Owen remembers. “Poverty is just an awful place.”
Several years ago, that instinct to help led him to volunteer at Project HOME, helping distribute turkey baskets at Thanksgiving. The experience was amazing, he says, and he hoped to get connected again.
Not long afterward, at a time when he says he was “going nowhere” with meaningless jobs, he decided to check out Project HOME’s website for jobs. His life would soon take a dramatic turn.
Starting as on-call support staff at our St. Columba safe haven, Owen began almost 13 years as part of the Project HOME community (with a few years away at school and another short break at a different agency). In that time he has held a variety of jobs, including street outreach, residential casework, and support for homeless veterans. About a year ago, he took on the position of Program Manager at our Connelly House permanent housing residence.
Working at Connelly House has been especially enriching for Owen. “Some of the folks here I worked with when they were on the streets.” He sees firsthand how people had come from living on the streets or under bridges to having their own place. “It shows me that you can meet people where they are, and when permanent supportive housing is available, transformation happens.”
“I absolutely love Owen,” said Stephen Penna, a resident at Connelly House. “He’s part of the reason I stay on track. He goes out of his way to help and do what he can for all the residents at Connelly.”
Gillian Martenson, Director of Residential Services, says that Owen has a vision of making Connelly House a great place to live and work. “He works hard every day to fulfill that vision through his skills, humor, creative thinking, and compassion.”
The biggest lesson he has learned at Project HOME, Owen says, is the importance of relationships. “It’s remarkable just how far a relationship can go. Just extending a hand, acknowledging someone’s existence, listening and being kind – these are such easy things to do, but for our folks, it means so much. You can build on these simple acts. When you help someone realize their worth, you can then help them make better choices and get connected to the support they need.”