Organization hopes to retain grass-roots feel, extend REACH

December 31, 2007|By HEATHER KEELS

HAGERSTOWN - Wanted: Compassionate, open-minded community leader who sees value in human life and believes everyone has potential.

The hours are long, the needs never-ending, but Terri Baker can attest that it's hard to find a worthier or more rewarding mission.

Baker's passion for helping others is clear as she describes her career as executive director of REACH, a faith-based nonprofit organization that runs a cold-weather homeless shelter, a crisis intervention program and an assistance program for elderly and disabled people.

But now, after 10 years of heading the organization she helped build, Baker is leaving Jan. 14 to take a job with Washington County Public Schools, and the organization is searching for just the right person to take up where she is leaving off.


"I don't think a lot of people realize the heart and soul she put into it," REACH resource specialist Jill Parker said. "She just went out of her way to make this place run. Her imprint will always be here on everything she touched and worked on."

Baker, a 30-year Hagerstown resident, began volunteering with REACH in 1996 while she was a welfare case manager with the Community Action Council. Then, REACH was a volunteer-only organization that ran a crisis hot line and an eviction-prevention program.

Baker was on the development committee that started the cold-weather shelter. She became the organization's full-time director in 1997, when it started Faith In Action, a program that provides visits, transportation and help around the house for elderly and disabled people.

Over the years, she has seen the organization grow, move into its own building, struggle through a zoning issue crisis and raise $850,000 to renovate its headquarters to include hot showers, laundry and mail facilities.

"It's been a really amazing journey," she said.

The best part has been seeing the relationships built between people whose paths otherwise might never have crossed, she said. Some volunteers have become friends with the people they help, forgetting, over the years, that they were originally matched up by REACH.

"I can't imagine how difficult it's going to be to say goodbye," Baker said. "I've already shed a lot of tears. But I think this is a good time to hand it off to someone with new ideas."

Among other things, REACH staff members say they hope a new director could open the door to involvement from new groups and congregations with whom they haven't yet crossed paths.

Other things they hope will stay the same. REACH is seeking a director who will keep the organization grass-roots, volunteer-oriented and faith-based.

The new director will face plenty of challenges. REACH's volunteer base is aging and needs are coming in faster than new volunteers, Baker said.

As affordable housing becomes harder to find, the average stay in the cold-weather shelter is growing longer, and more people are working, but still cannot afford a place to live. The organization sometimes must overspend its budget to help low-income families meet basic needs.

"It's almost like a bottomless pit," Baker said.

That's why the new director will need to be gifted at working with volunteers and pulling out the gifts in each individual, and, above all, must be committed to REACH's mission, she said.

"REACH is about quality of life," she said. "It's about recognizing that every life has value and hope for the future. It's not a handout, but a hand that can pull you back up."

The organization has advertised the position in the newspaper, posted the description on www., and sent out e-mail blasts to current volunteers, donors and partners. Baker said she hopes some of them will decide they want to stand up and lead the organization into the future.

"I'm excited for REACH," she said. "We've come so far."

If you go

What: REACH open house and send-off for Executive Director Terri Baker

When: Thursday, Jan. 10, 4:30 to 6:30 p.m.

Where: REACH center, 140 W. Franklin St., Suite 300 in Hagerstown

Volunteers, community partners and friends are invited to visit the center and share best wishes with Baker before she leaves for her new position.

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