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Pa. shelter has hope for bright future

February 08, 2006|by JENNIFER FITCH

waynesboro@herald-mail.com

WAYNESBORO, Pa. - New Hope Shelter has been renovated and is offering new services, but the people who run it still worry about paying the bills.

They have removed light bulbs.

They have turned down the thermostat and asked residents to wear coats - if they have them.

"We've cut as many corners and slimmed as much as we can," said Kathy Dietsch, shelter manager.

Yet, the spirits, like the paint colors, are no longer dark at the shelter in downtown Waynesboro.

The residents and community are pitching in to ensure the shelter's rebirth is a successful one, according to Dietsch.

New Hope Shelter, a four-story building at 25 S. Potomac St., opened in the late 1990s and has been confronted with financial woes since.

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In September 2003, the shelter was presented with a new problem: The local fire marshal closed it for code violations. It closed again, this time voluntarily, last fall for renovations that tackled issues of both safety and aesthetics.

Staff members have been conducting fire drills and smoke alarm tests with the fire marshal, Jerry Hartman, and his one-time concerns about the shelter have been replaced with pride.

"I am just totally amazed at how they've turned it around. I was really pleased and impressed with what they did," Hartman said.

He credits Dietsch and the shelter's board of directors with the transformation, but they quickly shift the praise to people from the community.

It was the local community that did the physical renovations, saving significant expenses for the shelter. Various churches "adopted" a room by painting it and replacing floors.

"They paid for stuff, the materials, and they brought in the workers. We really have the backing and support of the churches," Dietsch said.

Volunteers are providing transportation, performing maintenance, helping residents with paperwork and serving spiritual needs. A cook prepares the two meals served each day.

"If it succeeds, this thing will be a beautiful example of what a community can do when it comes together," said Russ Brezler, vice president of the shelter's board of directors.

And the residents are responding to that compassion, Dietsch said.

They have daily chores and are maintaining the improved conditions in the building. One has started an Alcoholics Anonymous group, she said.

"I'm finding that many of the residents have skills, and they're willing to lend them. They work while they're here," Dietsch said.

Brezler said residents try to supplement the lack of fresh meats and dairy products, which are rarely donated.

"The residents will go out and buy that stuff themselves," he said, explaining they share it with everyone else.

A list of what Hartman called "an awesome set of rules" is detailed on fluorescent orange paper that hangs outside the dining room.

Failure to abide by those rules leads to written warnings and possible expulsion, according to Brezler and Dietsch.

Brezler said the shelter manager is both fair and firm, and she has demanded a few people leave for breaking the rules.

People are screened before they are accepted into the shelter. There are dormitories for adults and five family rooms for people with children. The youngest child at the shelter is 5 months old.

Once accepted, the adults must show progress toward securing a job or home; otherwise, they must leave after 30 days.

However, since the renovations, no one has needed the services of the shelter for more than a month, said Dietsch.

"A lot of these people are trying so hard to get back on their feet," she said.

A volunteer assists them with finding jobs, filling out forms and securing permanent housing.

The maximum capacity of the shelter is 45, although a few more twin-size mattresses would have to be donated before that many people could actually be accommodated.

"There are things we desperately need," Dietsch said.

She wears thermal underwear while at the shelter and asks the residents to do the same to reduce the heating bill.

Many are outfitted with coats and sweatshirts from the thrift shop they run out of the lower level of the building. Dietsch said volunteers are needed to fill shifts there.

Proceeds from the thrift shop are one of the primary sources of revenue for the shelter.

Otherwise, New Hope Shelter relies on the generosity of the community for the $3,000 a month needed for operations including mortgage and utility payments.

Brezler said there are two to three months of operating costs in the bank, but no money is available for emergency repairs.

"I worry a lot about that," he said.

An anonymous donor said he would match any donations made during the last week of 2005. He pledged up to $5,000, and that amount was matched by checks that arrived in amounts from $20 to $1,000.

The only government funding comes from grants for specific projects such as ongoing repairs to a leak in the roof. Dietsch is looking for someone to coordinate fundraisers for the shelter.

New Hope Shelter can be reached at 717-762-5840.

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