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Never Quit winner offers help with social services, but also a judgment-free zone

Mark McCullough
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Sometimes when a person in need shows up at a government agency to apply for social services, they need more than what any assistance program can deliver. They might be going through a tough time and might need a little empathy.

That’s why in Polk County, Minnesota, people who request social services are often glad to meet Jason Omdahl.

Omdahl is an adult eligibility worker who helps administer the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and General Assistance (GA) program for the county. But he is much more than that.

Having experienced homelessness, Omdahl can relate to his clients, and is somebody who would never judge them.

“I have a personal bond with my clients because it just makes it feel more like two friends helping each other,” he says.

“A lot of my clients, they do come in with not the best perception of being on the system, and by the time they’re done meeting with me, I always try to make sure to joke around with them a little bit and let them know that we’re OK here, there’s no judgment,” he says. “There’s no one that looks down on you. Because it’s a hard thing, and I often share with my clients that I’ve been through the same thing.”

For his service to his community, Omdahl, a member of AFSCME Council 65, is a winner of our union’s Never Quit Service Award, which recognizes public service workers who go above and beyond the call of duty to make their communities better.

Ashley Jacobson, a co-worker, says Omdahl inspires her.

“He is one of those that takes the extra step to come up and meet his client face to face, so that way it kind of just reassures the client,” she says. “It inspires me to kind of be more hands-on with the clients that way. He’s also very nurturing when it comes to his co-workers.”

Omdahl says he is motivated to help his community because he knows he’s making a difference.

“When you have someone in need and you can make sure that they eat the next month or that they can pay their cell phone bill or they can go to the doctor, it’s a great thing,” he says.