"To love and serve our neighbors as ourselves."

Last fall, Windber native Jesse Trentini stepped in as the director of the Martha & Mary House in Johnstown. The 2009 graduate of Windber Area High School and 2014 graduate of the University of Pittsburgh has just what the shelter needs — an objective approach and problem-solving skills.

Prior to his work at the shelter, Jesse worked as a counselor for children’s services and later, as a case manager and marketing director at a local aging service. When the homeless shelter’s director position opened up this past fall, it caught Jesse’s eye. He had been inspired by the Martha & Mary House ever since it opened in 2015 and was eager to work on the front lines again after his brief stint in marketing. His approach to the job is two-fold — first and foremost to help the temporary shelter residents get back on their feet, but also to be an advocate for them and to educate the community about the realities of homelessness.

“Some words that most wouldn't relate with our residents are parent, CPA, Nurse, business owner, doctor,” Jesse says. “They may be shocked to learn that these are all titles of people we see here. On the front lines, truly see people for who they are. We see that they are no different than ourselves or anyone else, and are just in a different place in their life. Anyone can end up homeless. This position gives me a unique opportunity to learn about and help people, and educate the community away from negative stigmas and incorrect assumptions.”

Though being homeless is an emotional situation, Jesse approaches it from a place of objective reasoning and takes pride in being able to help residents problem-solve and find stability again. He’s particularly excited to bring new educational programming to the shelter that will help residents develop more self-sufficiency. Programs will focus on budgeting, couponing to maximize savings, and growing and canning your own food. Residents may also have access to trade workshops in order to learn new ways to thrive.

One of the most notable successes since Jesse took over as director was the Help Warm Johnstown initiative.

 “The response from the community was overwhelming to say the least,” he says. “We’re so grateful for the support. We received clothing, linens, and personal hygiene supplies for 12-18 months.”

As Jesse and his team continue to lend a helping hand to residents, he asks that community members consider how anyone, even themselves, could find themselves in the shoes of one of their residents.

“Living in the world that we are today, the difference between stability and homelessness can be a single pay check,” he says.

Imagine how an unexpected car repair or trip to the hospital could throw an already tight budget off balance. You may no longer be able to afford the month’s rent and before you know it, you’re facing eviction. It could happen to anyone.

“Think of all of the things around you that make you feel comfortable,” Jesse says, “…a house, a car, money, food, clothes, or whatever that may be for you. Now imagine that you blink and all of those things are gone. This is what’s happened to the people we serve. When someone is at this point, it is paramount that there is a resource in the community to help facilitate change.”

Jesse is thrilled to be a part of the team making this resource available in Johnstown. With new educational programming and continued support from the community, he’s confident that residents’ brief stays at the shelter will not only help them regain financial stability, but sustain it.

“All in all, we just want to help as many people as we can,” he says.

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