As a college student, Ashley Young-Roesler took a job as a shelter advocate for a domestic violence program. The decision changed her life.

"I think it was truly something innate that woke up one day," said Roesler, now the executive director of Rockdale Emergency Relief. "It's having the opportunity to serve the community and learn from that human connection. We all take away something from every person we meet. There's nothing more rich than to touch another's life but yours is changed as well."

Roesler, 32, took over duties at the helm of RER in June after long-time director Joy Jones retired. Funded primarily by private donations and some United Way monies, RER provides short-term financial assistance and other resources to those who are close to losing their homes or who are homeless. The non-profit also operates a food bank and allows clients access to Rockdale's Clothes Closet. On a budget of roughly $430,000, RER serves 7,000 people, which equates to 2,500 families, annually.

Roesler said that, unlike other social work-related organizations for which she has worked, RER is closely connected to the community and there is effective communication between entities that serve the population in need.

"People really care about what is going on. That was something I experienced there that I hadn't anywhere else," said Roesler. "RER is very sensitive to the needs of the community and really has a grassroots feel."

Roesler, who grew up in Stone Mountain and attended Parkview High School in Lilburn, holds a degree in psychology from Georgia State University and is currently earning her masters in social work from the University of Georgia. She is married to husband Jeff and is the mother of 3-year-old son Davis.

She first came to RER as a caseworker in 1998 shortly upon graduation from college. Roesler worked with clients on the intake process, assessing their needs and determining how best to aid them, whether through financial means or other avenues, such as job referrals or budgeting classes.

In 2000, Roesler married and moved to south Georgia where she worked as a child protective services investigator for the department of family and children's services. She also spent time employed at a children's advocacy center.

Roesler describes her career experience in south Georgia as a good training ground for further work at RER. The hands-on nature of the jobs allowed her to gain valuable interaction with clients.

"It's really just clearing your mind and letting yourself try to understand the situation... and really try to understand the dynamics of a family," said Roesler.

Roesler returned to the area in 2006 and once again joined the RER staff, this time as program coordinator for Phoenix Pass Transitional Housing program, a small-scale transitional housing development that will be part of Lighthouse Village on Sigman Road in Conyers. Roesler designed the operations of the program and provided input on the construction of the apartment-like building.

Phoenix Pass is aimed primarily at single-parent families who are homeless. Families may live at the facility for up to two years while parents gain education, training and employment, with the goal being financial stability and eventual transition to independent living.

As Roesler has assumed her position as director of RER, her duties have moved more into the administrative area with fundraising, community outreach presentations, grant writing and staff management filling up her time. Still, simply by being a member of the RER team, she is always reminded of her primary reason for entering into the field of social work.

"It's that human exchange every single day that enriches you as a person," said Roesler. "It's the whole human experience. I couldn't love anything more."

Contact Karen Rohr at karen.rohr@rockdalecitizen.com.