Within minutes of first meeting Gloria Owens, she will likely know your name, smile and grab your hands like an old friend.
Within minutes of first meeting Gloria Owens, she will likely know your name, smile and grab your hands like an old friend. In 11 years as the director of emergency services for Catholic Charities of Northeast Kansas, she’s made a lot of friends — those who know her say she is in her element around people. Owens herself admits that she loves the work she does because of the mission of Catholic Charities, the people she meets and works with and the challenge that work presents. “I get bored if I had to do the same thing over and over,” she said. “You can’t have the same day twice here.” That made the transition, having barely begun on her last day Friday, a tough one, she said. “I really didn’t want to leave it,” Owens said, “but something told me it was time.” Her husband, John Owens, said it’s the reason her retirement gave him both peace of mind and some cause for concern. The drive from their home in Bonner Springs can be treacherous during winter weather and was something he was happy not have to worry about, but he said he was concerned that she might not be able to find the same kind of fulfillment in retirement. “She says this her ministry,” he said of his wife’s job. Alice Marcum, the case manager for the Leavenworth center of Catholic Charities who has worked with Owens for 10-1/2 years, said she doubted the staff had seen the last of Gloria, though they certainly won’t see her every day. “We’re sad, but we’re happy for her,” she said. The larger Catholic Charities organization provides a range of services to those in need. The Leavenworth center is designated as an emergency assistance site affiliate of the 21-county Catholic Charities of Northeast Kansas, offering service ranging form tax help in the late winter and early spring to assistance with rent and utilities through all seasons. The center in Leavenworth also boasts a food pantry, clothing and coats and school supplies for area students, in addition to programs like landlord-tenant mediation. Since she began, Owens said the nature of the work the center’s staff does on a day-to-day basis has somewhat changed. “We have more need,” she said. “We have less resources.” When Owens started, she said the center was affiliated with a facility providing transitional housing for the community’s homeless and at the Eisenhower Veterans Affairs Medical Center campus. Neither are operating any longer. So Owens said the organization in that instance, and in others, has worked to “reframe and retrain” to continue to accommodate those new realities. “We’re helping people with the immediate need, but we’re also trying to help people to move forward,” and become self-sufficient, she said. Marcum said the search is on for a new director at the Leavenworth center. She said the staff were both happy to see Owens be able to enjoy some time off, but added that she’ll be leaving behind some big shoes to fill. “She loves people, she connects with people, she truly cares,” she said. “She never fails to thank the staff. She’s an awesome boss.”