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New Orleans Saints Owner Gayle Benson donates office space to Operation Restoration

"I just feel like being a business owner, I should help out if I can. So that's what I try to do."

New Orleans Saints Owner Gayle Benson donated office space to Operation Restoration in Benson Tower. Operation Restoration is a non-profit organization committed to supporting women and girls impacted by incarceration, restore their lives, and help them discover new possibilities.

Somewhat jokingly, Syrita Steib presented the issue.

Totally seriously, Gayle Benson addressed it.

Combined, it led to the latest occupant in Benson Tower, as Operation Restoration on Wednesday evening celebrated the opening of its new office space, a locale made possible via Gayle Benson's donation of a 4,716-square-foot office space on the 22nd floor of Benson Tower.

The space will house the organization's 12 full-time employees and 15 social service programs.

Operation Restoration is a New Orleans-based nonprofit focused on empowering women impacted by incarceration to successfully re-enter the community.

The 18-month journey from donation to occupancy began with a conversation between Benson and Steib, executive director and co-founder of the organization along with Annie Phoenix, who'd been a guest speaker at an event that Benson attended.

"I think it's really about her going off the things that she believes in," Steib said. "I know that she is a devout Catholic, and that's where I grew up also. The teachings and the things that they talk about, if you believe in forgiveness, you can't pick and choose who you forgive. You shouldn't judge people based on their past and I think that she's a true example of, if she sees something that needs to be addressed, she will address it. So we're just so, so grateful for her.

"I started crying (after Benson made the offer). Immediately. I was like, 'Is she serious?' It came from an innocent conversation prior to (the offer).

"I was just saying that I was in the process of looking for space. I was like, 'We've grown so much, so quick, (and) we're in one office in this church and we're all on top of each other.' And I said it in a joking manner. I never really talk about a lot of different things other than the issues at hand.

"And at the end of everything, for that worry to be taken away. Because one thing you have to worry about is the space and paying for overhead, and is that going to cause me to lose a person? Am I going to be able to pay the individuals what I need to pay them while still growing and maintaining that space? For her to just wipe that worry away in like, one sentence, I'm still – 18 months later – like, trying to recover."

Benson attended the opening and addressed attendants.

"This was so important to these women," Benson said afterward. "I met them through (former New Orleans Saints tight end) Benjamin Watson, and it was such an incredible story that they have. I was so touched, and I continue to be. They really inspire me for all the things that they do in this community.

"I don't really consider myself a woman with stature. I just feel like being a business owner, I should help out if I can. So that's what I try to do.

"This is so important. You give to a lot of different organizations but this really impacts many people and their families, and many people in the community. So it's a great place to be."

Steib said Operation Restoration, founded in 2016, was created from personal experience.

"When I was released from prison after serving almost 10 years – I went in at the age of 19 – there just weren't any services that were specifically out there for women in general," she said. "Re-entry for women looks a whole lot different than for men, and if there's nowhere to receive those services, it becomes even harder to re-enter society. So the genesis of it actually was to provide the things that I was missing upon release, and then it just grew into more and more as we faced a new barrier or a new challenge. We try to meet it head on."

The new office space immensely will assist in meeting needs, she said.

"It was a blessing," Steib said. "I still feel like an impostor. I think that somebody is going to come in one day and take it out. I don't know when that feeling will go away. We're just so grateful and appreciative that Mrs. Benson was moved in that moment to donate this space to us."

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