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“It is about a search, too, for daily meaning as well as daily bread, for recognition as well as cash, for astonishment rather than torpor; in short, for a sort of life rather than a Monday through Friday sort of dying.”


“Work allows me to utilize my talents and my strengths to help people obtain their goals—and that is a job, but it’s so rewarding.”

When Melissa Haley and her family were caught in Hurricane Katrina, they were forced to leave New Orleans and to rely on the goodwill of others. Melissa and her family had to access many of the same social service resources that she had provided to so many of her clients. The powerful experience of displacement connects her more closely to those she serves: “What is unique about us is that we have all experienced homelessness. Prior to that, I can tell you that I had sent people to get help, but it wasn’t until I went to the food stamp office myself that I got it—that I understood what it felt like.”

Overcoming this challenging time continues to guide Melissa’s work with Volunteers of America, which serves low-income communities, people with disabilities, homeless veterans, and others. As she explains, “because my work is centered solely on challenges—that multiple people have multiple challenges—for me work is about not allowing the people we serve to be defined by challenges. I feel like nobody should be defined by challenges; we all have them.” In helping people find opportunities to flourish, Melissa sees her work as a non-traditional ministry, but “conversion is never my goal. I am more in search of communality.” As she explains, “My father used to say church is a verb. You try to identify that everybody has a strength, and you are on a quest to find that strength. That is the work for me.”