Ohrtman’s heart leads her to UDMO position

EAGLE GROVE – Mary Ohrtman has a heart for helping people.

Serving in the position as Upper Des Moines Opportunity Inc. outreach director is a good fit for her, she said.

“We work to help people who need some assistance,” she said.

UDMO is one of 18 community action agencies in Iowa, which work to promote self-sufficiency by offering a number of programs helping individuals and families needing additional support.

“UDMO is the largest geographic community action agency in the state of Iowa,” said Ohrtman, “We serve 12 counties.”

Ohrtman is the outreach director for Webster, Hamilton, Humboldt, and Wright counties.

Among UDMO’s more popular programs is Low Income Home Energy Assistance.

“We provide energy assistance to low-income individuals and families who qualify for our help,” Ohrtman said. “The program runs from November through the end of April.”

UDMO also provides school supplies for income-eligible children.

“We have collection boxes in a number of places around the counties which we serve,” said Ohrtman.

Some UDMO programs are offered in every county served by it while other programs are specific to individual counties.

The Garden Program is one that is exclusive to Wright County.

“I am unsure how this program was started but it was in place when I began work here a couple of years ago,” said Ohrtman, “and it continues to grow. We provide seeds, plants, and vegetable gardening information. Those in the program do the work.”

This year 63 homes participated in the program in Wright County – double the number from a year ago.

Clubs and organizations can partner with UDMO to complete special projects to enhance lives of those with extra needs.

“One that we really enjoy is ‘birthday boxes’ for kids aged 1 to 8,” Ohrtman said. “A service group would make up a birthday box for eight people. The decorated box would contain a cake mix, canned frosting, candles, napkins, paper products, some decorations, and maybe one toy for the birthday child.”

Ohrtman said UDMO is all about listening and learning community needs and how some of those needs can through UDMO services.

“We want to help people with a temporary need to become self-sufficient,” she said. “We want to fill in the gap, when people are going through a needy time. We serve a broad spectrum of ages and work to fill in where things are lacking.”

Sometimes serving people in the four rural counties becomes a problem as it is sometimes difficult for potential clients to drive to sign up for programs. “It can be a long way from Belmond to get to Eagle Grove for people having difficulties,” Ohrtman said. “We really rely on the generosity of others to contribute items to our programs and we can always use additional volunteers. People just need to give us a call to learn how they might help.”

“I really enjoy my work,” she said. “It can be stressful at times when the needs are greater than our resources, but filling those needs can be so gratifying.”

While she is the outreach director, Ohrtman gives credit to her staff of nine part- and full-time employees in her four UDMO counties, as making the various programs go.

“These people go above and beyond what their job requires,” she said. “It is a job people don’t do for the money or the credit they might get. They do it because they care about people.”