Woman eyes old Pa. factory for homeless shelter

March 05, 1998|By RICHARD F. BELISLE, Waynesboro

by Kevin G. Gilbert / staff photographer

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ShelterWoman eyes old Pa. factory for homeless shelter

WAYNESBORO, Pa. - The seeds for the New Hope Shelter were planted in the 1960s when Violet Schmid was growing up in Ethiopia, one of the world's poorest countries.

Now Schmid, 48, a Waynesboro real estate broker and travel agent, is the force behind the movement to build an emergency homeless shelter in a building she is negotiating to buy at 25 S. Potomac St. in Waynesboro.

Her plan is to open the shelter next winter.

The idea of helping the poor was engrained in Schmid in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia's capital, where her parents, both Egyptian, were teaching.


"My mother would give me a dollar to buy bread, but there were so many beggars and poor people on the streets, some blind, some with no hands, that I gave it to them instead. She started giving me $2, one for bread for the poor and one for bread for the family, but I gave that away, too," she said.

Schmid became a flight attendant, first for an Ethiopian airline and later for Pan Am in the United States. She met her husband, Jerry Schmid, a schoolteacher and Waynesboro native, while she was living in Warrenton, Va.

The couple moved to Waynesboro in 1973 and eventually started a company that bought and renovated apartment buildings. Schmid also opened a travel agency and real estate office.

The idea for the homeless shelter surfaced in December 1996, when a homeless man asked for permission to pitch his tent in the parking lot of Christ United Methodist Church, the church Schmid attends.

"I couldn't believe that we could not find that man a warm place to stay. I felt we were not good human beings if we had to let someone stay out in the cold. Nobody in America today should be homeless," she said.

She said the church's pastor felt there wasn't much more that could be done for the man since he didn't seem to want more.

"I said, 'Yes there is. We can start a homeless shelter in Waynesboro,'" she said.

Schmid, her pastor and a local activist started talking about a shelter. Attendance at meetings they called began to grow. A board of directors, consisting of local religious, financial and business leaders, was appointed.

"All we were doing was meeting and talking about a shelter. We never did anything to build one," she said.

Schmid became impatient in November and began to negotiate on her own with the owner of the three-story, 24,000-square-foot building on South Potomac Street next to the Always There Hose and Ladder Co. firehouse.

Her office originally listed the building for $175,000, but the price dropped to $125,000. Schmid said she is negotiating for an even lower price.

The shelter's board members are balking at Schmid's ambitious plan to turn the first floor into 12 rooms for homeless families, office space, a playroom and a kitchen, she said.

"If they don't want to get involved, then I'll buy it myself. I already have a low-interest mortgage from a Greencastle bank," she said.

Schmid said she'll turn the top two floors into 16 apartments, the rents from which will support the homeless shelter downstairs.

"I don't want to be raising money all the time," she said.

"My husband and I have a lot of experience renovating old buildings. We've also been promised a lot of donated materials and labor," she said.

Meanwhile, Schmid and the board will hold a benefit auction March 21 at the firehouse to raise money for the shelter.

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