OCHS director loves ability to aid community
Meet Brenda Brewer. She’s worn many hats since living in the City of Beggs from the age of three.
Brewer is a wife, mother of four and grandparent to 11 grandchildren.
Before becoming Executive Director of the Okmulgee County Homeless Shelter (OCHS) and the operator of the OCHS Thrift store, she was employed as the Communications Coordinator for Okmulgee Main Street.
When she took on the position at the homeless shelter, she didn’t expect it to last long.
“When I took this job, it was an encouragement from my husband,” she said. “I had no interest in this job. And my husband kept telling me it was my ‘forte’ – I needed to, you know, at least try. My husband knows me really well. And so I thought I’d already made up my mind. ‘Okay, I’ll go through the interview. And if they do offer me the job, I’ll work two weeks and I’ll tell my husband I didn’t like it and I’ll quit.’ So, I went through the interview, was offered the job…” and the rest is history.
Brewer has served as the executive director at OCHS for 7 1/2 years. When she first took on the shelter responsibility, there were a lot of challenges, one being the finances and another was the program itself. So she set out to restructure and enforce the programs.
“Within a month and a half, every one of my clients I had kicked out because of the drugs,” she said, explaining, “we were a drug house and I know that we weren’t helping anybody. We were helping people with an active drug addiction stay high, warm and dry. That’s not what this place was going to be about. I wanted to help people, I wanted to help people get off drugs.
“I know what it does. I have family members still on drugs that I see how their life is. They’re unhappy. They can’t maintain a job, housing, relationships because of the drug addiction. So, I wanted to be able to help people get off of drugs. So, find resources. You find all the resources that help people get off drugs…different clinics, different facilities. Not every facility will work for this one, so you have to get to know your client to see which one would be best.
“Do they need a week stay, a month stay, do they need a whole different program? So, getting the program back started where it should be, job search. I had to create a lot of different documentation. I’ve done a spreadsheet on possible jobs, to give our clients a sheet of paper that they could see where more than likely they could get a job there. And then apartment search.”
Brewer admits the first five years were extremely tough.
“After I was here about three months, I obviously didn’t turn in my resignation,” she said. “God spoke to me and told me that he had prepared me for this job. For all my life experiences, this is where I needed to be. And I realized I loved my job, and I still love my job to this day. I don’t love my job for my position. I love my job to help people … that is my reward when we help the client either reunite with their family, get a job, get housing, whatever they need when they come in here.”
The building that houses the shelter has had to undergo some restructuring as well as the thrift store and under Brewer’s leadership, she’s been getting it done one project at a time.
“I wanted it to be clean and organized because when you come into a business, like if you’re eating, you go into a restaurant and all the tables are dirty, you go to the bathroom there’s toilet paper on the floor, the sink is nasty, most people are going to feel uncomfortable and not want to go back,” she said. “I wanted my clients or potential clients when they came in to feel at home. For it to be clean and organized, because it’s very important that our clients have stability, structure.”
Previous work at the OCHS includes the bathrooms, new furniture and updates to the kitchen, but with the influx of more clients daily, the age of the building and the increasing need of services and space, the need for a new building is inevitable.
For example, Brewer stated the shelter would serve an average of 15 clients per day pre-Covid, but it now aids between 30-35 clients including families with children.
This means more resources and space are needed. Currently, the shelter is a two-story building, but to serve some of their clients a one-story facility would be better.
In spite of the increase, Brewer continues to find ways to utilize area resources fully and is creating partnerships and programs to address the needs of OCHS guests.
Village 6 is a new partner that will offer classes on finances/budgeting, dressing for success for job interviews, mock job interviews and character development. Partnering is needed when taking up challenging tasks, something Brenda remembers when she first came aboard.
“I love challenges and being at a shelter,” she said. “It’s a challenge. I love helping people … When I got here, I knew I was going to quit like I said. I started working and I did have two board members that took me on and mentored me and they helped me for my first three months. That is key. RaeAnn Wilson and Doug Agnew … they both took me under their wing and they answered phones they helped me for the first three months and then they passed on the torch.”
In spite of the challenges, Brewer, along with the board of directors, has been able to triple the shelter budget and is on track to building a better future for her clients.
From two weeks to seven plus years, Brenda Brewer is all in.
“I didn’t realize this place was healing to me as much as the healing for these clients.”
That is true ministry. “I’m not fearful because I know God has my back,” she said.
Big words from a fearless person who knows and understands their assignment.