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(Photo by Anne-Marie Caruso)
Posted: Thursday September 6, 2012, 1:25 PM
By Grace Berry

Julia Orlando, the director of Bergen County Housing, Health and Human Services in Hackensack, has a passion for serving her community. She has held that position for three years, ever since the center opened its doors in October 2009.

"It is so rewarding to help people in your own community," she says. "I previously worked in New York and I realized that all I wanted was to work in my home. I was so happy when I got this opportunity."

Orlando has been a Bergen County resident her whole life and currently lives in Oradell with her husband and two sons, Anthony and Christopher. She received her master's in counseling and organizational psychology from Columbia University and became interested in this field during an internship in community health.

"My job here is very challenging, but extremely rewarding. Every day is always something different, and I see people in all types of situations," she says.  

Orlando refers to herself as a conductor, managing the corporations, volunteers and daily procedures that go on at the shelter. The shelter works with Alcoholics Anonymous, One-Stop Career Center and Bergen Community College, among others, to assist individuals and families. Those agencies have worked with the Bergen County Services Center to place more than 245 individuals in permanent housing, and to help more than 400 families find housing assistance.

Currently, she is focusing on youth homelessness in the county.

"Being a mom, it's hard to see an 18-year-old kid who doesn't have a home – you want to do all you can to help them," she says.

Orlando hopes to get them back on their feet by strengthening their education and helping them find a job.

"My goal is to not manage homelessness, but to end it," she says.

Orlando's efforts extend far beyond her involvement with the shelter. Her other roles include vice president of trustees for the Alliance against Homelessness, and she is on the board of NJ Coalition to End Homelessness. In July, she was appointed by Governor Christie to the Interagency Council on Homelessness. She is also a member of the family selection committee with Habitat for Humanity in Oradell. To date, she is most proud of her contributions with Women United in Philanthropy.

"This group is amazing," she says. "I look at it as a women's giving circle – we work to raise women out of poverty."

Orlando is grateful for all the volunteers involved with Bergen County Housing, Health and Human Services. The center's dining hall is run solely by individuals and groups who donate their food and time. She says the center would not be able to run if it weren't for the community's help.

"We run into the occasional glitch," she says. "One time I found myself ordering and serving pizza! But no matter what, we always make sure the people here have food."

What Orlando finds most rewarding is the excitement on people's faces when she hands them the keys to their new apartment.

"This one woman once told me, 'It's so nice to have my head on a pillow and not on a park bench.' I was so happy for her," she says. "This is what makes my job so wonderful."

Submit your ideas for "Neighbors" to 201editor@bergen.com.

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