By Grace Sullivan
Seven years ago, Tammy Delcourt went back to school not knowing what to expect.
She met with an adviser and said, “You know, I’m almost 40 years old, and I don’t have a clue what I want to do or what I’m supposed to be doing.”
That’s when someone asked her, “Have you ever thought about being a social worker?”
“That’s who I am,” Delcourt thought. “That’s what I’m supposed to be doing!”
Since that time, Delcourt has become the only employee of Doors of Hope, a transitional ministry for the homeless and those at risk of becoming homeless in Oxford and Lafayette County. She was drawn to the position because it was part-time, allowing time for her family, but soon fell in love with her work.
“I love the fact that we’re not necessarily just helping the homeless,” Delcourt said. “We’re not giving them a place to spend the night or a fresh shower; we’re giving them the opportunity to change their circumstance.”
Beyond Doors of Hope’s mission, Delcourt loves her job because it embraces her Christian faith. The organization cites faith as its foundation.
“I liked that I wasn’t going to have to hide who I am,” Delcourt said. “If someone asks, ‘Could you pray with me,’ then I could say, ‘Sure no problem.’”
Doors of Hope ministries owns three apartment units in which it houses homeless families for a four-month period while they learn life skills like holding a job, keeping house and budgeting. As DOH’s only employee, Delcourt meets with each family at least twice a week to offer support and check their progress.
“When I meet with a client, I talk about budgeting. I talk about life-changing. I talk about transition. I talk about things that happened to them when they were 5,” Delcourt said. “It’s a little bit of everything, and I love that part of it.”
Delcourt is an unsung hero, who represents the unsung of Oxford. Taylor Reilly, a sophomore at the University of Mississippi, got a chance to peek into Delcourt’s world while volunteering with DOH twice this semester.
“It was shocking to me that I can’t recall seeing a homeless person, let alone family, in Oxford, but obviously they exist,” Reilly said. “We are so privileged at the university and by our romanticized view of the city, that I was struck by my ignorance of the need to take care of our own.”
Through working with DOH, Delcourt has found that her work influences her life in multiple ways.
“It really makes you evaluate where you are in life—what I thought was important maybe 5, 8, 10 years ago, I realize now that’s nothing,” Delcourt said. “I have so much more, and I am so much more blessed than a lot of people can say.”
For Delcourt, the biggest struggle of her life in social work is determining the boundary between friends and clients. She makes clear to her clients that social work is her job, but she finds it hard to reject the occasional two-hour phone calls with clients off the clock.
“When you know a client needs you and they’ve come to trust you—when you’re not available, they don’t have anyone else they can trust,” Delcourt said.
Working with Delcourt helped inspire the same kind of commitment to people in Reilly. An aspiring teacher, Reilly believes that Doors of Hope helped her realize the need to care of others.
“Social work and ministry is not something that I’m looking at as a career path, but hope that it’s always a part of my life nonetheless,” Reilly said. “I don’t think that service should be a fad that stays around while you have a resume calling out for it.”
Delcourt believes strongly that her balancing act of a job is worth everything she puts into it.
“In every field of social work, you’re going to have clients that don’t appreciate what you do for them,” Delcourt said. “But when you have people come in, and they’re just so thankful to have a washer and dryer, and they’re crying because they’ve been sleeping in their car, that’s worth it.”
Clients tend to look to Delcourt as more than their social worker, but as a constant encourager.
“I tell my clients that we’re all going to fall in mud puddles,” she said. “God just doesn’t want us to stay there. He wants us to get up and wipe ourselves off and keep going.”