Farewell and best wishes to Cōlleen O’Brien

Heidi Ruud General Blog

Help us in saying farewell and good luck to a long time part of Ozone House. Colleen (Co) is exiting Ozone House after nearly 24 years of service. Co joined the Ozone House family in October of 1994 as a crisis line volunteer. In 1995, she was hired on as a phone shift supervisor and stayed in the phone room until 2000 when she became the Drop-In’s first case manager. Co has been with the Drop-In since it’s early years, and has seen it grow and shift, but always remain a place where young people could go and know they will be seen and heard. As the Director of Youth Opportunity, from 2004 until now (August 3rd), Co has welcomed young people through the door of Drop-In in Ypsilanti and helped create a space filled with love and acceptance. We decided to directly interview Co, so she could share in her own words, what Ozone House means to her:
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What do you like about working at Ozone House? As I get ready to leave Ozone House it’s even easier to identify all the things I love about my work here at the Drop-In Center. I love the community we build every day with young people, community partners and friends, and each other. Our team at Ozone House is so strong and so giving and so hard-working and I’ve always been proud of that. I love that I’ve had the opportunity to work side-by-side with young people and help them connect to resources, make changes, build support and participate in programming that helps them lead safer lives. There really is almost nothing I don’t like about my job at Ozone House except some paperwork and answering voicemails.

What are some of the reasons, you have stayed with Ozone House over the years? The young people, hands down. I have witnessed strength, kindness, and creativity that I don’t think many people ever get to see. Our young people build trust with us and include us in their days and that’s been one of the greatest honors I’ve ever had – to work side-by-side with them and to share in their lives. So, building community is another reason I’ve stayed.

What was your favorite role within the agency? My current role as Director of Youth Opportunity – I have worked with social workers who are the strongest and most giving people I can imagine. And, they’re so fun. Being in my role at the Drop-In Center has allowed me to connect with so many other people too – and that’s what makes it my favorite. #peopleperson

How has Ozone House changed over the time you have been here? Oh wow! We’ve changed so much and not at all. Our spaces (buildings), our level of professional social work training, our team sizes, our program offerings have all changed significantly since the early 90’s. And, now we have email and smartphones vs. paper files and pagers! One thing that hasn’t changed is our commitment to serving young people and their families – that’s literally felt the same the whole time I’ve been here. Also, our logo is way better now!

What is a favorite memory, and/or significant event that you have from your time?
Once the Drop-In Center ceiling fell in on my head. It’s a long story and it was back when we rented the space the Drop-In Center was in. But, what I love about it is the agency’s response. Within days we had new space in the community and were well on our way to buying a new building. Young people got services and support even when we were down a building. That’s the Ozone House spirit!

When you think of Ozone House, what makes you proud? That young people know we keep it real and also that we’ll go to any length we can to safely and appropriately support them. And, that we do what we say we’ll do.

What things are you taking with you? Literally, a piece of the Drop-In Center stair rail that looks exactly like a miniature piece of toast – I’ve loved it every day we’ve been in this building. Figuratively, a heart that is many times fuller and happier than you could ever imagine. I’m taking away a strength and a pride in having been part of the Drop-In Center and a part of building positive programming in Ypsi. I’m taking away the unshakable knowledge that building a space that is truly safe and supportive, a space that recognizes the worth of each and every person, a space that prioritizes what you need but also what you want, a space that vibes out love is one of the most powerful tools for change that we have as a community. And, love. I’m taking away more love than it’s probably fair for any one person to get.

And finally, what will you miss most? The love. This place generates so much love – you feel it when you walk in, when everyone greets you, when you come to a group or an activity. I’ll miss that vibe. Every day.

So with that we say goodbye and good luck! After a well-deserved break, Co will pick right back up as she takes on teaching full time at the EMU School of Social Work. She will also continue to run her private therapy practice here in Ypsilanti. August 3rd will be the end of an era, but that doesn’t mean the work stops. Co has left behind a legacy, a team of people, and connections to young people and community members that will continue to grow. We wish her well, send her out into the world with love and kindness, and leave her with the reminder: Our door is always open