MOUNT VERNON, N.Y. -- A walk to the Mount Vernon train station turned into a career turnaround for Tony Laud.
Laud, who moved with his family from Jamaica hoping to enjoy the great American dream, was working in the retail fashion industry and commuting to Manhattan. Every day he'd pass a quaint, two-story, brick-faced building on Franklin Avenue and wonder about its occupants.
Curious, he asked an employee about the building and discovered it was a shelter that temporarily housed the homeless.
He was so moved by this revelation that he quit his job, and sought work as a family care monitor (essentially assisting with security) at the facility.
“I wanted to work with the homeless and give back to this great country,” said Laud. “So I made Westchester County not only my home, but my work and my life.”
Since those early days 28 years ago, he has risen through the ranks at the facility, which is known as HELP USA Mount Vernon and operated by the nonprofit HELP USA. He became a security supervisor, then Director of Safety, then Director of Operations, and then, in 2011, Executive Director.
During his tenure, he has overseen the building’s 46 units, which house up to 184 individuals (adults and children). He has built relationships with nearby community organizations and religious institutions to help with support services such as afterschool care for homeless children.
When budgetary belt-tightening erased county funds for a recreation program, he reached out to a local church to host the program so kids could also get help with homework and have a place to exercise. He also established a relationship with Westchester County Harvest to supply food to his residents, and with another church to present gifts to kids during the holidays.
“I wanted to change the stigma of a homeless shelter in a community as a negative and turn it around to a positive,” he said. “This shelter is looked upon as a beacon in the community.”
Last spring, the Mount Vernon Seventh Day Adventist Church presented him with a plaque of appreciation because of his work in the community.
Laud's generosity extends to his homeland, which his family left 37 years ago. Every two years, he returns to St. Catherine’s in Jamaica to bring clothing and supplies to local clinics and hospitals.
“Growing up was a struggle. We pretty much lived paycheck-to-paycheck,” he said. “Now I am able to sit in the chair as executive director and I have achieved so much, but I want to give back.”
That includes making the same half-mile walk to that Franklin Avenue building for close to three decades. This time, however, he knows exactly what's inside.
"Coming here," he told Daily Voice, "was my calling."