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New director of Hagerstown's 'shelter of last resort' prepares for cold winter

August 22, 2008|By MARLO BARNHART

As Lori Wriston familiarizes herself with her new duties as coordinator of the REACH Cold Weather Shelter, she said she feels strongly that the community needs to understand the reason the shelter exists.

"What I have found is that we are a shelter of last resort," Wriston said. "We take the people no one else will take."

Some shelters in Hagerstown will take only men, some don't have the capacity to take families and others are likely to have no vacancies.

"We don't want to exclude those who have already been excluded," she said.

That doesn't mean the REACH shelter doesn't have protocols and procedures at its permanent location at 140 W. Franklin St.

People who show up at the shelter intoxicated or who cause a commotion while they are there must be dealt with for the protection of all, Wriston said.

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With the REACH shelter scheduled to open this year on Oct. 26, Wriston said her main duties now are preparing the manual for volunteers and scheduling the hosts - those who take responsibility for specific periods for all functions of the shelter - while the shelter is open during the 2008-09 season.

In addition to providing the seasonal shelter, REACH is being more proactive about the factors that drive people into shelters in the first place.

The economy is a major factor, Wriston said. "More people are coming in for crisis intervention. ... They can't pay the rent or their utilities."

The key, Wriston said, is for REACH to solve some of those problems for people before they reach the point where they need the shelter.

Staff members and volunteers work to equip people in crisis with the tools they need to stay out of the shelter and cope with their day-to-day needs, she said.

In addition, many businesses and agencies lend a hand to help REACH serve the community. Most recently, Wriston said, Fahrney-Keedy Home near Boonsboro volunteered to do REACH's laundry for free - a savings of $8,000 a year if REACH would have to pay.

"We pick up and deliver laundry to Fahrney-Keedy on a weekly basis," Wriston said.

Growing up in nearby Waynesboro, Pa., Wriston, 43, has been in Washington County since 1993. She resides in Hagerstown with her husband, Steven, and her two college-age children, Mallory and Jake Geesaman.

After 16 years of employment in various sales positions, she answered a calling into fulltime ministry. After some traveling to the hurricane-ravaged Gulf Coast and serving as a chaplain for a number of relief organizations, she returned to Hagerstown.

Church work locally combined with the call to volunteer. She heard about REACH through a friend and became involved in crisis intervention as a volunteer in January.

"When I came here, it was in my heart to make people have a good opinion of REACH - that we are doing a good thing," Wriston said.

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