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A wrap for REACH

April 05, 2004|by BRIAN SHAPPELL

shappell@herald-mail.com

HAGERSTOWN - People hugged and wished one another good luck for the coming months outside the Church of the Brethren in Hagerstown on Sunday morning in a scene that resembled the last day of a college session or camp.

However, most of the well-wishers did not have a specific place to go as the REACH Cold Weather Shelter closed its doors for the warm-weather season.

Close to 20 volunteers braved brisk temperatures and the loss of an overnight hour to daylight-saving time to help REACH, or Religious Effort to Assist and Care for the Homeless, pack up materials used to run its cold- weather shelter for the last time Sunday morning.

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REACH Executive Director Terri Baker said the shelter drew 377 people between its early November opening and its Sunday morning closing. She said the shelter housed an average of about 50 people per night, and the average length of stay was 19 nights.

The shelter was open Mondays through Saturdays from 7 p.m. to 7 a.m., and from 3 p.m. Sundays to 7 a.m. Mondays. The shelter, sponsored by more than 20 religious organizations, moved about every two weeks.

Baker said the shelter will reopen Oct. 31.

Baker said the 11,000 hours of volunteer time between that shelter and a day shelter that operated at the New Light Metropolitan Community Church were what kept the shelters going through the winter season.

"They really do a tremendous amount," Baker said.

Several shelter inhabitants stayed for up to an hour after doors closed for the 2003-04 season to talk with one another, thank the volunteers and share some emotional hugs.

Shelter attendee David Brown, a native of Elkton, Md., who began coming to the shelter in December 2003, said he was treated well and had "great fun" meeting new people at the shelter. Brown smiled widely and said his plan for the coming days was to go on a second interview with a local company and get his life back on track.

"I'm going to be staying in a mission for 30 days, but, hopefully, I'll have some paychecks in my hand soon," Brown said.

Among the last to leave were volunteer Mary Lou Koontz of Christ Lutheran Church and a thankful trio of shelter guests - Dennis Peyton, Shaunna Keech and Franklin Keener.

"If it wasn't for REACH, we'd have all been out in the cold with no place to eat and no place to sleep," Keech said.

All three showed the care and respect many would to a family member while exchanging goodbyes with Koontz.

"I've been coming here as long as she has," said Peyton, bound Sunday for Winchester, Va. "I'll say one thing, she puts us in our place when she has to, just like a mom's supposed to."

A teary-eyed Koontz said she feels compelled to help out at the shelter annually because she believes "we're sent here to help when we can."

"Some of them are really just like us, they've just lived difficult lives," Koontz said. "Who knows, the way things are going, we could be here, too."

Baker said REACH is looking at late 2004 or early 2005 for the opening of the new permanent home for the cold-weather shelter and other programs. If the renovations to the building housing the new REACH headquarters/shelter, next to Christ's Reformed Church on West Franklin Street, aren't completed by fall, alternate sites have been designated, she said.

Baker said the need for the shelter still will be apparent when it reopens on Halloween, wherever the location.

"There's a lot of people that move on, but you can't find answers for everybody," she said. "Some people have nowhere to go."

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