Allison Henry ’19 Helps People Experiencing Homelessness Gain the Resources They Need

Allison Henry stands in front of a tent city in Waynesboro VA Allison Henry '19 makes regular visits to tent cities in Staunton, Waynesboro and Augusta County, Va., to check in with residents and assist them. (Photo by Kate Simon, courtesy of Community Foundation of the Blue Ridge from the ‘This Is Home’ exhibition)

Allison Henry ’19 works daily to help people experiencing homelessness obtain things most of us take for granted, including housing, food and access to health care.

“Chances are, if someone is experiencing homelessness, they’ve already tried to seek out a lot of different resources and those resources failed them,” says Henry, who is passionate about making it easier for people in her community to get the assistance they need.

Henry is an outreach worker for the local unhoused population with Valley Community Services Board (VCSB), a publicly funded organization connecting residents from the cities of Staunton and Waynesboro and counties of Augusta and Highland in Virginia to behavioral health, substance abuse treatment and other critical developmental services.

“Through my studies at Bridgewater, I became passionate about things being equitable and accessible,” says Henry, who majored in sociology. “I’m able to see on a daily basis how inaccessible things are for this population.”

It’s easy to imagine the stress of not having a traditional place to live compounded with the difficulty of finding and keeping a job, scheduling and attending doctor’s appointments or accessing critical mental health services. Connecting people to what they need takes patience, and part of what makes Henry so successful is the rapport she’s able to build with her clients.

“Good assistance looks like meeting people where they are,” says Henry. Her commitment to her clients earned her a spot as one of the Staunton News Leader’s 2022 Newsmakers of the Year.

While on and off the clock at VCSB, Henry meets with clients at their various encampments, often passing out supplies, helping with paperwork or driving people wherever they need to go.

“It’s very therapeutic for me to get to assist people who don’t have a lot of trust and hope in the mainstream systems we have to work within,” she says. “I struggled in high school. I had difficulty with mental health my whole life, and I definitely did not receive the assistance I needed until I was much older, so I understand.”

The Front Royal, Va., native attributes her positive college experience to a host of dedicated professors and powerful internships. In 2019, Henry received the C. Wright Mills Award, which is presented to a Bridgewater student who practices public sociology and models the daily use of sociological imagination beyond the classroom.

“As someone who has had difficulty doing classwork, the entire sociology department was just so helpful and accommodating in making sure I had what I needed to be successful,” she says.

On the tip of her tongue are current and former faculty members in the Department of Sociology Dr. Benjamin Albers, Dr. Timothy Brazill, Dr. Mwizenge Tembo, Dr. David Reznik, Dr. Skip Burzumato and Dr. Betsy Hayes. Hayes was the mentor who set Henry up with a “game-changing” Blue Ridge Court Services internship that would hone her passion for equity and introduce her to the work of VCSB.

“It’s a privilege to work with my clients—it’s such a nurturing and kind population to work within,” Henry says. “I’m always looking for opportunities to amplify their voices and make sure that people get the opportunity to hear that this can happen to anybody.”

— By Samantha Baars