Unsung Hero: Katherine Wilson, 'Mom' to those in need

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BRUNSWICK — Katherine Wilson spent her early years living on the family farm in Bowdoinham and helping out with chores.

“My mother instilled a sense of responsibility,” Wilson said. An only child, she enjoyed typical teenage activities: riding a motorcycle, going snowmobiling, playing softball, being a cheerleader.

And then came a rough patch, which lasted about 20 years. “There were lots of struggles,” Wilson said.

Getting married and divorced twice. Raising five children, most often as a single mom. Needing to rely, at times, on public assistance, including Temporary Assistance for Needy Families and Additional Support for People in Retraining and Employment.  

As part of the requirements of the ASPIRE program, Wilson spent time volunteering at the Maine Hunger Prevention Program and at the Tedford Shelter in Brunswick, now called Tedford Housing.

In 2000, Katherine got a full-time job at the 7-Eleven in downtown Brunswick, a position she held for more than six years. A self-described “people person,” she enjoyed working at the convenience store, but something was missing in her life.

“I needed a change. I wanted to get back to the people I could help,” she said. And some of the people she could help were going through their own rough patches, living temporarily at Tedford Housing.

So Wilson got a job at Tedford in 2006, first on a per-diem basis and later as a full-time employee.

“I love it,” she said of her current position as adult shelter team leader. Her duties run the gamut: cooking meals, doing intake on new residents, helping develop comprehensive care plans for residents, buying food and other supplies, ensuring a safe environment, and doing whatever else that needs to be done.  

“I’ve worked my way right up at Tedford,” Wilson said with justifiable pride. “I have a way with people. I help them feel good about themselves. I show them respect, and they show me respect right back.  I’m like a mother hen.  Sometimes they call me ‘Mom.’”

Wilson noted that Tedford Housing expects the residents to follow rules. There’s zero tolerance for alcohol or drugs. All residents are expected to be at the evening meal on time. Meetings are held on Tuesday nights to discuss problems and issues. And every resident is expected to be working on an individual plan to improve his or her life and living situation. Everything is handled on a case-by-case basis.

According to the mission statement: “Tedford works to end homelessness in Maine by providing in collaboration with others shelter, housing and services to those in need. We work to help people become more self-sufficient and advocate for change so that no one faces the prospect of being without a home.”

Tedford Housing’s adult facility includes beds for 19 people (15 men and four women).  The ages of the residents range from 18 to 70 and older. The typical stay is 30-50 days, although circumstances might require some residents to stay longer. No one is turned away, if there is room.

Tedford also runs a family facility in Brunswick and supportive facilities in Bath, Lewiston and Auburn.  In addition to support from the state and the United Way, Tedford relies upon the support of individuals and area restaurants and supermarkets.

Although she’s proud of the impact she’s having on people in need, Wilson doesn’t accept the “hero” label.

“I’m not a hero,” she said. “I’m just a typical person trying to make it.”

At the same time, she knows she’s right where she wants to be.

“I’ve found my calling,” she said. “Tedford is my home away from home.”

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Katherine Wilson, adult shelter team leader at Tedford Housing in Brunswick: “I have a way with people. I help them feel good about themselves. I show them respect, and they show me respect right back.”

Unsung Heroes

One in a series of profiles by Brunswick writer David Treadwell about people who quietly contribute to the quality of life in greater Portland. Do you know an Unsung Hero? Tell us: heroes@theforecaster.net.