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Many people volunteer at Blanchet House serving in the cafe, but only one, Katie Hennessy, gives their time and friendship to men staying in the residential program.

Katie Hennessy, a semi-retired clinical social worker, volunteers Tuesday mornings at Blanchet House in Old Town, Portland. As the sole volunteer in the residential program, she nurtures connections with men who have sometimes lost it all.

“There seems to be something deep in me that connects with our Blanchet residents,” she reflects. “I am very comfortable here.”

Quite a few men staying at Blanchet are challenged with physical and mental health issues and benefit from individualized attention from an experienced social worker like Katie. She offers them friendship informed by a profound understanding of the human need for connection.

Katie Hennessy talks with a resident at Blanchet House.

Katie Hennessy talks with a resident at Blanchet House.

Katie’s volunteering can look like gently coaxing a resident to leave their room for a walk or asking about the side effects of a new medication. She’s also helped residents embark on journeys to obtain their GEDs.

With decades of social work experience including roles in oncology and palliative care at OHSU, Katie’s uniquely skilled at navigating delicate situations and providing holistic support. Her volunteer work also supports the Harrington Health Clinic and the Residential Program Team. And, our small residential staff appreciates her help.

“I feel that something as simple as a walk in the neighborhood and a meaningful conversation is beneficial,” Katie says. “Also, part of what I hope to do is offer support to the incredible staff. Being a listening ear amidst the challenges of their work is equally important.”

Katie exudes empathy, which we learned is rooted in a life marked by both personal loss and professional expertise. Her parents, both World War II veterans, struggled with addiction. Katie was shaped by family complexities, but also by her mother’s work as a nurse.

“Remorse and the longing for healing feel very familiar,” Katie revealed. “As my mom’s life was ending when I was in high school, I took her to her AA meetings, the only place she really wanted to go. I sat in the back of the room, listened, and was humbled. I loved my parents. They both died early because of their illnesses and histories of trauma.”

Katie’s path to Blanchet House is rooted in a lifetime of service including her senior year in college at Gonzaga University in WA. There, she was asked to run a student volunteer program that operated a soup kitchen on Sundays when the regular staff were off. The ministry at House of Charity had a similar mission to Blanchet House.

“At 21 years old I was given a key to the House of Charity. I would walk through the alley at 6:30 in the morning to start the soup. I don’t think that experience ever really left me, to tell you the truth,” Katie recalled.

Blanchet House board announcement from a 2014 issue of the Catholic Sentinel.

Blanchet House board announcement from a 2014 issue of the Catholic Sentinel.

Many years later, after being named OHSU’s Social Worker of the Year, Katie caught the attention of Blanchet’s leadership. They asked her to join the board of directors. In 2013, she joined the board alongside nurse Emily Harrington, who runs the Harrington Health Clinic which is located inside Blanchet House. Together, as healthcare professionals, they advocated for hiring case managers to help residents establish a stronger base before exiting the program.

Katie says that her Catholic faith and belief in a “merciful God” underpin her volunteerism.

“We can all change, grow, and experience healing until the moment we die,” she asserts. “Our mistakes are not the whole of who we are. Sometimes people end up in a place in life where they’ve lost everything and everybody. It’s important to restore a sense of relationship. That’s possibly what my volunteering can do.”

In a community where many feel isolated and filled with despair, Katie’s presence serves as a beacon of hope—a reminder that even on dark days, there are people who believe we are worthy of living and healing.

Thank you, Katie.


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