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REACH shelter opens for season

November 08, 2005|by ERIN CUNNINGHAM

HAGERSTOWN

erinc@herald-mail.com

Mark Ashby was released from jail Thursday and said potential employers rarely will give a man with a criminal record a job.

So, sitting in the REACH Cold Weather Shelter dining area Monday evening with several colors of paint splattered on his jeans was a good sign. He's been painting a home near Funkstown - two bedrooms of four different colors.

"I thought I got it all off," Ashby said, poking at a small spot of orange paint on his forearm. "No, there's some."

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REACH held its 10th candlelight service to celebrate the start of the shelter season Monday at 140 W. Franklin St. in Hagerstown. The shelter opened in late October and will operate through April, said Terri Baker, REACH Executive Director.

The shelter opens during colder months for men and women who need a hot meal and a warm, safe place to stay.

Ashby, who has been painting homes and businesses for 16 years, said he hopes the job near Funkstown will lead to more work through referrals.

Before coming to the shelter recently, Ashby was living with family. He said he prefers to be on his own.

"That's not for me anymore," he said. "I'm better taking care of myself."

The shelter offers food, a cot, personal care items, showers and laundry. Nearly 900 volunteers work with REACH to operate outreach services, resource programs and the shelter. Before moving into the new suite on West Franklin Street this year, Baker helped pack the shelter supplies into boxes and bins and cart them each week to a different area church.

Those spending the night in the shelter - called "company" - were given a piece of paper with a list of the possible sites, and "they just found it," Baker said.

Now, with a permanent location, Baker said she hopes the number of homeless able to find the shelter will increase.

In its first week in the building, 50 guests stayed at the shelter, each for about four nights. About 27 guests came to the shelter each night.

Lonnie Sowers arrived in Hagerstown three weeks ago and was staying at another shelter when he was told about the REACH shelter. Sowers began staying there four nights ago and said the volunteers and staff there "have a lot of respect" for him and the other guests.

Sowers worked at the same job for eight years until recently. He also works seasonally at local carnivals, assembling rides. He can build 185 by memory, he said.

"This is my first time being homeless," he said.

He hasn't yet looked into the resources that REACH offers aside from the shelter, but Jill Parker, REACH's Resource Specialist, said several people were helped Monday, the Day Resource Program's first operational day of the season. Parker said her job is to assess what the guests need and then put them in touch with other agencies that provide those services. She also helps them fill out paperwork.

If someone needs to apply for a driver's license or a social security card, Parker can help them do that.

"We do whatever they need to help them get out of here," she said.

One of her first tasks Monday was helping a woman find daytime shelter because she needed a place to stay while the REACH shelter is closed.

Sowers, a trained chef, said he is working on a few possible jobs.

"Anything that can help me, I will do," he said, also saying he would be interested in the organization's resources.

For now, he is taking his time and learning about the area. He likes the REACH shelter, though, and said he will continue to come back.

"The people are really nice here," Sowers said. "And you can drink coffee all the time."

Baker said there is no way to tell how many pounds of ground coffee the shelter goes through each season. She does know it's a lot. Without donations of everything from ground coffee to work gloves, she estimates the shelter would have to raise its budget by about $5,000 each year.

Baker said the guests always need coffee and powdered drink mix.

"For some reason, we always need that," Baker said.

Heavy work gloves, socks and thermal underwear also are constant needs, she said.

To volunteer with REACH, donate items to the shelter or receive more information about REACH programs, call 301-733-2371, send e-mail to reach@myactv.net or go online to www.reachcaregivers.org.

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