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Cold-weather shelter opens for the season

November 07, 2006|by JENNIFER FITCH

HAGERSTOWN - They were standing outside on the chilly night with tears in their eyes.

This time, thankfully they'd say, they were outdoors voluntarily and the tears were those of joy as the REACH Caregivers officially opened their cold-weather shelter for the season.

Guests of the shelter - some for days and others for years - put arms around each other, praised the Lord and joined together in song Monday during the candlelight ceremony.

"If it wasn't for them, I don't know how I would've made it," one man said. "I thank God for them and love them with all my heart."

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The center, which opened Oct. 29 and closes April 1, is operating from 140 W. Franklin St. for a second year. The Aspiring to Serve Community Center also houses Women, Infants and Children (WIC) and the Area Agency on Aging.

The cold-weather shelter moved every two weeks in its first nine years.

"We used to move around from congregation to congregation," Executive Director Terri Baker said.

The permanent location affords guests a telephone number and mailing address to use in job searches, Baker said. They also have laundry facilities and showers, she said.

The shelter has averaged 40 to 45 men and women a night so far this season. It served 339 people last season through the work of hundreds of volunteers logging 18,000 hours a year.

James Martin is one of those volunteers and a board of directors member. He remembers the program's formation in the early 1990s when a group of people "became concerned because people had no one to call when the agencies were closed."

The cold-weather shelter serves adult men and women who are able to care for themselves.

"We accept people unconditionally as long as they don't disrupt the community," Martin said.

As a nonprofit organization, the REACH Caregivers are able to make their services flexible, he said.

"We kind of come in behind where the agencies fail," Martin said. "We can do what other organizations sometimes can't. ... REACH kind of comes in and fills in the cracks."

Resource Specialist Jill Parker said the day resource center is expanding to offer services in the evening. Those include job search and prescription assistance, mental health consultations, flu shots and HIV/AIDS testing.

Martin said there are more "working poor" than in the past. The shelter affords workers time to accrue savings while their physical needs are met, he said.

"In the meantime, they can solve some personal needs in working with the volunteers," Martin said.

For more information about REACH programs, call 301-733-2371 or visit www.reachcaregivers.org.

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