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Church social services center fills gap between paychecks

January 31, 2000|By MARLO BARNHART

"Bill" walked into the Washington County Council of Churches Social Services Center recently with a problem - no money to the pay the rent this week.

Bill, whose asked that his real name not be used, is starting a new job and his future looks brighter but he has some money problems.

"It's no fun being down," he said as he explained his dilemma to Betty Willson, the supervisor of volunteers for the center. "I'm really trying to get on my feet again."

With his first paycheck still 12 days away, Bill thanked Willson for the voucher that will help him pay the rent this week and next week.

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Willson asked whether he could see his way clear to pay back some or all of the money when he is able.

"Some do pay us back and some can't, either way's fine," she said. "We are a faith-based program so we'd rather err on the side of charity."

The mission of the center, which is housed at Trinity Lutheran Church at 15 Randolph Ave., is expressed on a banner hanging on the wall.

"God Changes Lives," the banner reads. And since 1982, the center has been trying to help do just that.

The center is not a starting place for people seeking assistance, Willson said. But it can be a valuable stop along the way for people down on their luck or the working poor trying to improve their lives.

"The Department of Social Services and the Community Action Council refer people to us," she said. "They are the paid professionals, we are the volunteers."

For example, Bill had been to the Community Action Council for help first and was referred to the center.

The center has 12 volunteers, including Willson. With each volunteer helping 2 1/2 hours every two weeks, about 10 more volunteers are needed to cover all the hours.

The center is open Tuesdays and Thursdays from 6 to 8:30 p.m., Wednesdays from 10 a.m. to 12:30 p.m., and Saturdays from 9 to 11:30 a.m. Its phone number is 301-791-5092.

The Washington County Council of Churches gets money from various churches in the community and from individual donations. There is no governmental connection, Willson said.

"I am still working all the hours that we are open but that should change as the volunteers get more experience," she said.

Bob Hyssong, director of the Washington County Council of Churches, does the primary fund-raising for the center's needs.

Although not directly affiliated with Trinity Lutheran Church, the center taps into that church's food and clothing banks when needed by clients, Willson said.

No stranger to volunteer endeavors, Willson, 52, came on board as supervisor of volunteers last summer.

"I saw the ad in the paper about the job and decided to give it a try," she said. "It's amazing how each thing I do leads to the next."

President of the Community Action Council's board of directors for two terms in the 1980s, she also supervised VISTA volunteers for a year and was one of the founders of Food Resources Inc.

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