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story.lead_photo.caption Mary Thompson is the executive director for Samaritan Outreach in Yell County. Samaritan Outreach, which offers support for survivors of domestic abuse, is being funded in part by the new COVID-19 Cares Act Grant, an emergency-solutions grant. ( Sam Pierce)

A nonprofit in Yell County has expanded its care and support to those who have been affected by COVID-19.

Samaritan Outreach, which offers support for survivors of domestic abuse, is being funded in part by the new COVID-19 Cares Act Grant, an emergency-solutions grant. The grant, which the organization earned in October, will allow Samaritan Outreach to extend its homeless program by helping those in need with finding resources and housing and getting the homeless off the street.

“This grant also allows other shelters to extend their homeless programs, adding more beds and things like that,” Executive Director Mary Thompson said. “In our area, there is no homeless shelter, but I know who to refer [them to] if they need immediate shelter.

“[The grant] has opened a lot of opportunities for everybody in the state, for truly homeless individuals.”

With the new grant for the street outreach, Thompson said, individuals must have been affected by COVID-19 in some way. Either they lost their home because they couldn’t afford rent or pay their bills, or they lost their job as a result of the pandemic. She said the grant gives Samaritan Outreach the opportunity to place individuals into hotels or other kinds of shelter.

Prior to receiving this grant, Samaritan Outreach has had a homeless hotline, but the organization didn’t have a way to assist clients after the phone call. This grant allows the center to set up a case-management plan, and the hotline will still be in place as well.

“We are just getting started with it,” Thompson said, “but it does gives us a lot more freedom in how we help them and walk them through the process, and help contact those agencies they need.

“Before, once we hung up that hotline phone number, we didn’t know if anyone else helped them or not.”

Thompson has been the executive director for Samaritan Outreach for a little more than two years. She started with the nonprofit about three years ago as a victim’s advocate and later served as a legal advocate before being named executive director.

“I was a survivor of domestic violence, and I knew of the help [the organization] provided,” she said. “I came in for an interview, and the executive director at that time didn’t hire me at first because she said I had too much education.

“But I knew what they did for the community, and I applied for the advocate position because I wanted to be part of the program like that.”

Brandi Everette serves as president of the board for Samaritan Outreach.

“Mary has run the shelter as long as I have known her,” Everette said. “She is very professional and goes above and beyond with her reach in the community.

“She is an amazing grant writer and runs the center proficiently. Anything she needs, she lets me know. … I don’t think I could ask for a better executive director.”

Everette said Thompson has “learned everything she can to better herself and the shelter.”

“She researches and pulls grants,” Everette said. “She doesn’t just sit back and wait for it to fall into her lap. She is a go-getter.”

Everette said that with the new grant, the aim is to reach out to the community and individuals who may not know about Samaritan Outreach. She said that during the COVID-19 pandemic, a lot of people are quarantined to their homes, can’t go anywhere and are possibly staying in a situation that is not healthy or good for them.

“This allows us to reach out to people who may not have the resources to find us and to find those individuals who may not be able to do that otherwise,” Everette said.

Samaritan Outreach has had to lower the number of people who participate in the organization’s support groups because of COVID-19. She said some groups are offering classes virtually. Thompson said the center still provides safe short-term housing, with the main goal of the shelter being safety.

“We do provide legal advocacy and orders of protection, and we go to court each month in both Logan and Yell counties to assist any new individuals who may not know what services are available,” Thompson said. “Legal advocates are currently not allowed in the courthouse, due to COVID-19, so we have to reach out to the victims before they go into court.

“It makes it quite a bit more difficult.”

She said that right now, there are about six residents at the center who are trying to get permanent shelter.

“We had to change the spacing of our rooms to make sure everybody could socially distance, and there are areas in the shelter for anyone who needs to be quarantined,” Thompson said. “We have been lucky, though, as we have had zero [COVID-19] cases so far.”

For more information, visit samaritanoutreachinc.com.

Staff writer Sam Pierce can be reached at (501) 244-4314 or spierce@arkansasonline.com.

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