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Updated: June 26, 2023

Helping people: The new Abby's House leader brings a decade of experience serving vulnerable residents

A photo of Julie Orozco PHOTO | Courtesy of Abby's House Incoming Abby's House executive director Julie Orozco

Julie Orozco knows a lot about the most difficult challenges people in Greater Worcester face. A licensed social worker, she spent a decade in various leadership roles at Community Healthlink, which serves people experiencing homelessness and mental and behavioral health issues in Central and North Worcester County. She worked with kids in an outpatient clinic, oversaw mobile teams of clinicians who helped people in crisis, and provided housing, health care, and supports to help people who had lived at state hospitals smoothly reintegrate into the community.

After that, Orzoco became vice president of behavioral health for ConcertoCare, a national organization based in New York helping people with serious healthcare needs continue living at home. There, she learned more about the wider world of health services and the nuts and bolts of funding.

“ConcertoCare was a wonderful opportunity,” she said. “But I always knew my place was in the community.”

Now Orzoco is back serving the Worcester area as executive director of Abby’s House. Her first day was June 26. Founded in 1976, the organization provides overnight shelter, longer-term affordable housing, and services to women with or without children.

“We couldn’t be more delighted in our selection of Julie,” said Laurie Matosky, president of the Abby’s House board of directors. “We really believe she is the perfect fit for this job. She really gets it. And with her clinical background, she definitely has the skills that are needed to continue to lead our organization.”

A photo of Laurie Matosky
PHOTO | Courtesy of Abby's House
Laurie Matosky, Abby's House board president
Abby's House has an annual budget of over $3 million, and serves approximately 500 women per year.
A chart of Abby's House facts and figures.

Orozco is the first person of color to lead Abby’s House. She said she’s just one of a number of diverse leaders who are beginning to take the reigns at local organizations.

“One of the areas where the Worcester community is making strides, but needs to focus on, is the diversity of leadership across our organizations,” she said. “We do have organizations that, once you get to a certain level, it gets whiter and whiter.”

Among Orozco’s missions at Abby’s House will be leading its diversity, equity, and anti-racism work. She’s happy to be a role model for younger leaders from diverse backgrounds.

“It is such an honor to be the first woman of color to lead this organization,” she said. “Also, it’s a reminder that I have the ability to influence the next wave.”

Work to be done

Orzoco joins Abby’s House at a time of growth. Prior to the start of the COVID pandemic, the organization renovated one of its buildings, located at 52 High St. in Worcester, where 56 of its 72 single-room supportive housing units are located. The building holds a common space, known as the Annette Rafferty Women’s Empowerment Center, in honor of the organization’s founder. Matosky said because of precautions during the pandemic, the center is only now coming into full use as a gathering space for residents, former residents, and guests.

A photo of Abby's House at 52 High Street in Worcester, a brick building with an outdoor patio
PHOTO | Courtesy of Abby's House
Abby's House at 52 High Street in Worcester

Meanwhile, Abby’s House is gearing up for a new $5+million renovation project this summer to expand and improve its shelter, doubling its capacity from nine to 18 beds. With the expansion, the organization will increase the supportive care it offers, helping to address the traumatic situations impacting the women and children it serves.

In addition to housing and help with mental and physical health, Abby’s House offers comprehensive services including meals, a food pantry, clothing, transportation, parenting support, emergency financial assistance, and referrals to other services in the community.

Orzoco is grateful to Abby’s House’s outgoing executive director, Stephanie Page, who is stepping down on June 30 after serving in the role for nine years.

A photo of Stephanie Page
Stephanie Page, former executive director of Abby's House

“She has clearly taken Abby’s to a whole new level,” Orozco said. “So I come in sort of very humble and respectful of all the work she has done. It really puts me on a launching pad to be successful.”

As a city booster, Orzoco said she’s excited about the revitalization happening in the city and aware of the importance of making sure vulnerable residents benefit from growing opportunities. Rising housing prices and instability caused by a lack of affordable housing can create huge barriers for people.

“Every aspect of a person’s experience – their health, their ability to thrive, their employment – all that is so impacted by stability of housing,” she said. “It’s like ground zero.”

“One of the most generous people”

Orozco traces her lifelong mission of supporting her community to her childhood. Growing up with a single mother in a household that sometimes didn’t have all the resources the family needed, she experienced the power of people coming together to support each other. She recalls one Christmas when her mother couldn’t afford gifts for her and her siblings.

“Her coworkers left bags and bags of gifts on our front porch,” she said. “It was just this moment of ‘Community matters, and connection matters.’"

A photo of Alexis Freedberg
Alexis Freedberg, behavioral health medical director at ConcertoCare

Alexis Freedberg, behavioral health medical director at ConcertoCare, who worked closely with Orozco during her time there, said she was impressed with both her practical leadership skills – like building slide decks and onboarding processes that were the envy of her coworkers – and her attitude.

“As a human, she is one of the most generous people I know,” Freedberg said. “She has this amazing ability to see the best in everybody she encounters, whether that’s a patient, a team member, or another colleague. She has just an enormous heart, and enormous curiosity about everyone she encounters.”

While Orozco’s work for years has been in leadership, she operates what she calls a very, very small private practice as a social worker, working with individuals and couples.

“It’s always been important for me. If I’m going to be in a role where I’m supervising people, I have to stay sharp,” she said.

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