Name: Joe O'Neil
Occupation: Executive Director of
What is Exodus House? It is a nonprofit organization started in 1994 by a group of Sumner residents to help the homeless. The plan is set up to help families displaced due to domestic violence. We find them homes and help them get their lives together and move toward independence. Exodus has been able to obtain federal and state funds to assist our families. Last year, we housed 57 families. They are required to pay 30 percent of their income for rent and Exodus pays the rest, though gradually decreasing the percentage until the family is autonomous. We provide case management and family services working toward independence. Most families come to us with nothing. We work toward empowerment, helping people find their strengths and how to utilize them.
How do you get the money to fund this program? Besides the money from the federal and state funds, we do fundraising and write grants. When a family comes to us, they need everything you need to live in an apartment. We mostly rely on donations and we buy in bulk.
What have you brought to the table, since you became the director? I changed the model somewhat. I have been here two years and when I started, all people we had in our program were not allowed to consume alcohol, have contact with their abusers and had a checklist of requirements, like having a clean house every time they were checked up on. I altered the requirements to allow for people to be more average. Many healthy, functioning people have a drink on the weekend and have a messy house from time to time. Exodus House is not about control, we are about empowerment. We help people learn to make healthy decisions, make their life situations work for them and form a safety plan.
What life experience prepared you for this type of position? I served 20 years in the Air Force as a pararescueman. Pararescuemen have a motto: “These things we do so that other may live.” I continue to live by that phrase. I do what I can with my life to make others’ lives better. My mom was a nurse and volunteer, and I wanted to follow suit. I worked for the United Way after the service, which helped me to see things from other people’s perspective. I am goal-oriented, but not rule-oriented.
What is the goal of Exodus House for those they help? Empowerment and independence. Currently we have a high success rate. About 70 percent of the families that leave the program will be able to make it on their own, with or without help from the government. Each family is in the program about one to two years. We help the families learn to balance their needs and wants and help them gain the courage to succeed and find happiness and safety. We always have the goal to be able to serve more families, but for that, we need more money. I enjoy writing grants and obtaining more funds so more people can be helped. This all leads to increase self-respect and hopefully, breaking the cycle of abuse for the entire family.