November Newsletter

An Interview with Katelyn Malis

Roberta Machin, BA


Katelyn Malis, recently appointed Director of Programs at Open Hearth, feels like she’s home again after a lot of twists and turns in her career.  Growing up as an army brat, Katelyn moved around a lot, but spent most of her childhood in San Antonio, TX before moving to Montgomery County in High School.  While in grade school, Katelyn considered being an actress, and participated in all of the school plays.  But she also had an empathetic side to her from an early age.  “I felt very in touch with others, and I always rooted for the underdog,” said Katelyn.  “I lived a sheltered life when I was young – but my parents made a point to make us aware of how fortunate we were, so that we did not take anything for granted.  Still, growing up I didn’t see homelessness unless it was portrayed in films, which you know is incredibly stereotypical.”

Originally interested in law, Katelyn majored in psychology with a minor in justice at American University.  Preparing to go to law school, Katelyn says that her experiences at two internships redirected her career plans.  She interned at St. Elizabeth’s Hospital in Washington, D.C., advising mental health clients of their legal rights, and she interned at a criminal defense law firm in Philadelphia.  “I realized law wasn’t for me,” Katelyn said.  “I wanted to do something more helpful, and I enjoyed focusing on the rehabilitative, rather than the punitive aspects of these experiences.”

At Katelyn’s first job at Fellowship Health Resources in Phoenixville, she worked as a resource coordinator.  “I’d say that 75% of my caseload was struggling with homelessness,” said Katelyn.  “For me, this flipped the stigma of homelessness upside down.  I began to realize that in a county as affluent as Chester, poverty hides in plain sight.  So I started referring a lot of my clients to Open Hearth’s Gateway program, and we forged a great relationship.  After two years, they recruited me for the position of program coordinator.”

Two years ago, Katelyn left Open Hearth to work in the corporate world – and she hated it.  “I had no passion,” she said.  “Now that I’m back at Open Hearth, I feel reenergized.  I’m proud of what I’m doing and I’m proud to be here.”  As Director of Programs, Katelyn is experiencing a completely new role.  “Open Hearth is a small organization, so I wear a lot of hats,” she said.  “Since I’m a supervisor, my first responsibility is to my staff, supporting them and addressing their concerns.  And since they work directly with our clients, it’s important that they feel supported.  I also meet weekly with our housing team to go over their caseload and problem-solve – that’s how I get energized.”

Katelyn admires her boss, Kelly, for always searching for creative solutions and handling each situation with tact and poise.  She also draws inspiration from her clients, for showing resiliency in the face of hardship and getting up each day to do what needs to get done.  “I don’t know how I would handle being in their shoes,” she said.  For Katelyn, success at her job comes from helping her clients achieve their goals and find permanent housing – and then seeing them years later, still stably housed.  “You don’t always get a thank you,” said Katelyn.  “But you don’t really need one.”

Katelyn feels proud of the work she does, which helps her get through the tough days.  “We are doing something bigger than ourselves, and that leaves a lasting difference.  It’s a ripple effect – if you help one person, they can pay it forward and help someone else.”  Katelyn also admits that some ice cream and maybe a margarita after work helps her destress after a long day – “And I couldn’t get through the day without coffee, and lots of it,” she laughs.

As a perfectionist and a very type A individual, Katelyn gives 110%, and expects others to do the same.  “I have high expectations for the people I work with,” said Katelyn.  “I want to be approachable and friendly, and I prefer to be flexible, not rigid.  In my younger years I was a hippie wild child, but now I like more structure.  Still, accessing my strict side is tough sometimes.”

In her free time, Katelyn enjoys living a simple life.  She loves watching The Office on Netflix with her fiancé and her cats.  “As soon as I move into a house, I want a puppy,” Katelyn admits.  “I have a soft spot for animals in need.  I want to adopt every animal I see.”  Katelyn also loves to travel whenever she gets the chance.  When asked who she would want to play her in the movie about her life, she responded, “Kristen Bell.  People have likened me to her before.”  She would also choose to be a horse if she could be any animal, because they are wild and free.

Katelyn advises those who are interested in beginning a career in social work to separate their work from their life.  “At the end of the day, turn off,” she said.  “The bleeding hearts in this line of work will hemorrhage, and there will be nothing left of them.  Don’t take a client’s failure personally – they weren’t trying to hurt you.  Sometimes, people have opportunities in front of them, but they choose to take a different path that’s maybe not so good for them and end up self-sabotaging.  Even if this happens, try to put yourself in their shoes to understand what’s really going on, and treat them the way you would like to be treated.”

When asked to think about her most memorable day of work, Katelyn recalls working at Fellowship with a client who was very closed off and guarded.  Slowly, she developed trust with him.  Before he left the program, he wrote her a beautiful handwritten letter, thanking her for helping him.  A few months ago, when Katelyn returned to Open Hearth, the client stopped by her office.  “He heard that I was back and came to visit me.  He looked at me and said, ‘I knew you’d be back.  This is where you belong.  You’re meant to help people.’  I had kept his letter the whole time I was gone, and still have it now.  Sometimes, if I’m having a hard day, I reread the letter and think, ‘this is why I’m here.’”

Katelyn is proud to be a part of Decade to Doorways, and a voice among so many important voices within the community.  “I was in the county when D2D first began,” she said.  “I think that we can end homelessness in Chester County, but it’s going to take a lot of time and collaboration.  And even if we can’t, it doesn’t mean that we stop trying.”

D2D Movie Nights: Film Review

Lara Dorfman, BA


If you are thinking of attending one of our four movie screenings in the county but aren’t sure which movie you want to see most, look no further! I will break each down for you to ensure you pick the best movie for your interests and preferred genre. There are four nights and three movies: The Soloist, The Lady in the Van, and The Pursuit of Happyness, which will be playing twice because it is an obvious fan favorite.

If you are interested in seeing the Smith father-son duo (and I’m not sure why you wouldn’t be) then come by our movie screenings on November 13 at East High School or November 15 at Unionville High School, or both, if ugly crying is something you like to do more than once a week. The simultaneously heartwarming and heart wrenching film chronicles the story of a family struggling to meet their basic needs. The family is thrown deeper into trouble when father (Will Smith) pursues a huge career opportunity and risks accepting a 6 month unpaid internship with a stock broker in hopes that he will be the one offered a full time position at the end of the term. The Pursuit of Happyness is an important film for everyone to see in order to better understand that homelessness does not discriminate. Will Smith won a Best Actor Oscar for his performance in The Pursuit of Happyness, so it is not a movie that you want to miss!

The Soloist provides a mental health perspective on homelessness. Jamie Foxx plays Nathaniel, an extremely talented musician who suffers from Schizophrenia – the main reason he had to drop out of Julliard and ended up living with all of his belongings on the streets of Los Angeles.  Columnist Steve Lopez, played by Robert Downey, Jr., takes a keen interest to Nathaniel when he desperately needs an idea for a story. The film offers a rude awakening of the darkness of both homelessness and mental illness. This film is inspired by a true story, in case you needed another reason to come by The Gordon Literacy Center on November 14 to watch it with us for free!

Lastly, Maggie Smith provides a breath of fresh air in The Lady in the Van. Maggie plays a quirky, outspoken older woman who voluntarily lives out of her van. Another true story, the film follows her and her neighbor, Alan Bennett, after he suggests she park the van in his driveway for a few months after many complaints from others in the neighborhood. These few weeks turn to months and eventually 15 years in Alan’s driveway. The film depicts how much you can learn about someone after 15 years and captures the woman’s fear and struggle beneath her hard and witty exterior, a struggle that explains why she is so adamant on living in her van. The important thing to remember here is that usually there is more to someone’s situation than what meets the eye. Get to know a person before you assert judgement. You can catch this film at the Colonial Theater on November 15!


Don’t forget to register for free tickets at:


My Experience as an Intern

Carly Hill


My name is Carly Hill, and I am a senior social work major at West Chester University. Besides being a student, I work as an intern on Tuesdays and Thursdays. On Tuesdays, I intern at Friend’s Association in West Chester and on Thursdays I intern at the Department of Community Development. At Friend’s Association, I assist with shelter case management and volunteer tasks. Sometimes my tasks are as simple as giving winter coats, cleaning supplies or hygiene products to families that need it. I also design the bulletin board at the shelter, which advertises community events, Friend’s Association updates, and resources. Also, I helped set up and attended Friends Association’s Fall Festival at the Oscar Lasko YMCA.  When I am helping with shelter case management, I meet with the families, assess their needs, and discover what led the family to becoming homeless. Also, I help the families create and accomplish a goal plan. My work includes connecting the clients to resources, such as mental health services, food banks, rapid rehousing programs, and child care.

At DCD, I have many roles, which include working with the Decade to Doorways team, the VISTAs, and sitting in on meetings. Also, I sit in on the VI-SPDAT calls with Gene Suski and other staff members. Decade to Doorways focuses on hunger and homelessness awareness and is Chester County’s ten year plan to end and prevent homelessness. I am working with the Decade to Doorways team to plan the annual Point in Time Count. Also, I am helping to advertise for the National Hunger and Homeless Awareness Week movie nights, which take place during the week of November 12th.  Another task of mine includes sitting in on Permanent Housing Options Committee meetings, where I take notes and keep track of the meeting minutes.

There is a true fascination in seeing and participating in many aspects of ending and preventing homelessness. Whether that be the micro level of helping families one on one, the mezzo level of sitting in on meetings, or the macro level of learning about DCD and HUD policies. I was trained on how to use Chester County Client Information Management System (CCCIMS) and how to complete a SPDAT assessment. As a bachelor’s level social work intern, I have learned an incredible amount over the last few months. I will be interning at both Friends’ Association and DCD until May and I am excited to keep learning how to prevent and end homelessness.