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Woman feels Social Help Center her calling

December 04, 2000

Woman feels Social Help Center her calling



By ANDREA BROWN-HURLEY / Staff Writer


After years of volunteering at area help agencies, Betty Willson feels right at home as head of the Washington County Council of Churches Social Help Center.

"One thing leads to another," said Willson, 53, of Hagerstown. "This is the next logical thing for me to be doing."

In July 1999, Willson re-launched the faith-based Social Help Center at Trinity Lutheran Church in Hagerstown. The center had closed several months earlier when the former director retired.

The center was founded in 1982 to provide referrals to other community resources and financial assistance for rent, fuel and utilities, prescriptions and transportation.

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Willson dove into the "arduous" undertaking of reopening the church agency, said Barbara Miller, a Social Help Center volunteer.

The new volunteer coordinator organized the office, designed and printed forms and contacted businesses to ensure that vouchers would be honored.

Willson used the knowledge and contacts she cultivated during years of volunteer service with the Community Action Council, Food Resources, Inc. and the REACH Cold Weather Shelter to locate and train volunteers and find funding sources, Miller said.

"Betty Willson's untiring energies, which she so graciously and caringly offers to the hundreds of hurting and needy local folks who walk through those office doors, has indeed made a difference in the quality of their lives," Miller said.

On Nov. 16, the Community Foundation of Washington County gave Peoples Choice Awards to Willson and long-time volunteers Millie Fiery and Dorothy Truax, saying each has lived a "quiet life of giving."

Willson, Fiery and Truax each received $5,000 to set up charity endowment funds through the foundation.

Willson said the endowment will give the financially strapped Social Help Center "a leg up on getting things going."

The center appeals for funds primarily to the faith community, she said.

"We try to be very responsible with our resources," Willson said. "We don't treat it like it's our money. We treat it like it's God's."

The center's coordinators decided not to apply for "ill-gotten" Gaming Commission funds, and the center has not yet acquired the nonprofit status it needs to qualify for United Way funding, Willson said.

"We've done a lot of praying," she said. "We have not yet been able to not pay a bill."

Center volunteers work closely with the state Department of Social Services (DSS) and the Community Action Council (CAC) in Hagerstown to avoid overlaps in services, Willson said.

The Social Help Center can often offer services not rendered by the other two agencies - such as assistance with security deposits - and can cater to clients who don't qualify for help from the DSS and CAC, Willson said.

"The Social Help Center is the added avenue that makes the other two (agencies) work," she said. "I think we do a fairly good job of having a pretty good network of agencies that work together on people's behalf."

The Social Help Center at 15 Randolph St. is open from 6-8:30 p.m. Tuesdays and Thursdays, 10 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Wednesdays and 9-11:30 a.m. Saturdays. Center volunteers have access to the Trinity Lutheran Church Food Bank and Clothing Bank during those times.

Anyone interested in making a donation or volunteering at the Social Help Center may call 301-791-5092.

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