NORTH CHARLESTON — Helen O’Leary never imagined that at age 52 she would resume a career that she put on the back burner years ago, but as the new Coastal Deanery regional coordinator for Catholic Charities she is doing just that.
O’Leary is trained in social work and is licensed to handle adoptions. A native of India, she has a bachelor’s degree in psychology from Poona University and a master’s in social work from Tata Institute of Social Sciences in Bombay. She and her husband, John, a Foreign Service employee, met in India and were married in 1982 in Washington, D.C. She was employed as a social worker there until the family moved in 1988. The O’Learys have two children, Brandon and Megan.
“When we got married we decided that we would stay together as a family,” O’Leary said. “A lot of families in the Foreign Service chose stability for the children, but we have kept our family together all over the world. Our children traveled with us until they were ready for high school. Then we sent them to Catholic boarding schools in the U.S.”
The family has lived in Pakistan, Germany, Cameroon, Haiti, Mali, Rwanda and Sweden. Two years ago they settled into their new home in Mount Pleasant.
“It is really nice to have my own home and my own things,” said O’Leary. “I haven’t had that since the ’80s. And even though my husband is retired now, I decided I wasn’t ready for that yet.”
She is new to the position and admits that she is still getting a feel for the job. She hopes to educate parishes about the aid that Catholic Charities can provide, including direct assistance, disaster relief and immigrant assistance. She will also handle adoptions for Catholic Charities as needed.
O’Leary’s goal is to provide client education to those who receive assistance through the St. Vincent de Paul Society.
“It’s back to the old adage ‘you can give a man a fish and feed him for a day or teach him to fish and feed him for life,’” she said. “A lot of people throw that saying around, but we really need to move away from band-aiding and on to teaching them to fish.”
O’Leary said that she is able to accept and understand the problems that these people are facing, having seen poverty in its worst form all over the world.
“I am excited about the idea of being able to reach out to these people and their issues by doing the Lord’s will.” she said. “Providing people neglected by society with self-determination and independence is our ultimate goal.”
O’Leary has arranged for financial literacy training with the South Carolina Credit Union and has invited a representative from the Department of Health and Environmental Control to provide talks on disease.
“It’s all about education and providing tools to change the thinking of these people,” she said.
The first project that O’Leary has been instrumental in orchestrating is the upcoming outreach center to be shared by Catholic Charities, St. John Church and the St. Vincent de Paul Society in the North area. The 3,000-square-foot facility will provide food, clothing and other basics for families in need.
“I look forward to making a difference by giving people the opportunity to grow, develop and better themselves,” she said.