Ms. Deborah Branch began this year as the part-time cook at HomeAgain’s Espigh Family Shelter. JoLinda Underwood, Program Manager at the shelter, attended church with Ms. Branch and was familiar with her culinary skills; she approached Deborah when there was an opening. “This has been a very pleasant and enlightening opportunity. I get to see families healing, and I like that,” Ms. Branch said.
With a background in Early Childhood Development and years of experience as a pre-school teacher and day-care manager, Ms. Branch was excited to join the staff at our Family Shelter. She said, “I missed working with children, they are my life source.”
Alongside her work in HomeAgain’s kitchen, she is also a part-time Bus Assistant for Henrico County where she assists with students’ behavior on the bus. She rides different routes, each day, with elementary, middle, and high school students. Her experience has opened her eyes to the plight of some students riding her buses; “Many times, we don’t know what they’re going though at home.”
Ms. Branch has dedicated her life to strengthening families and encouraging children. She mentions the life skills parents acquire, while at the shelter, and how she thinks it makes a difference in their future. She is happy to contribute in the progress of each family, “It makes me feel like I’m a part of the best part of their day,” she continued, “At meal times, I love this job, especially when the children ask to pray and show that they have something to be grateful for even in their situation.”
For each meal she creates, Ms. Branch follows USDA guidelines to provide protein, vegetables, and milk or water. She believes that learning about nutrition is crucial for families, and is glad to provide meals that are healthy. She said, “My biggest joy is watching children eat vegetables they’ve never had before. We go from fast food to home cooking.”
Ms. Branch has gained all new perspective on what it looks like and means to be without a home. She encourages everyone, in our community, to picture themselves in that situation… because “it could happen to anyone.”
“We get these ideas that homelessness only happens to those who are lazy. I’ve met some hard working people who fell on hard times because of some disaster… Then devastation set in. I’ve seen the faces of parents who are tired but so hopeful to move forward.”
Outside of her work with Henrico County Schools and HomeAgain, Ms. Branch enjoys singing in the mass chorus, directing the youth choir, dancing, and cooking at home. We are certainly grateful to having such a caring and passionate staff member helping our families as they work to find safe, decent, and affordable housing. “I think HomeAgain is fantastic,” she said.