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REACH residents and volunteers welcome 16th season

Executive director says shelter has been fortunate to weather a difficult economy

November 17, 2011|By KATE S. ALEXANDER | kate.alexander@herald-mail.com
  • Mary Lou Koontz, a 15-year volunteer at REACH of Washington County, hugs Leigh Kees, volunteer and coordinator from St. Mark's Lutheran Church, as they sing "Amazing Grace," Thursday during the shelter's opening service in Hagerstown.
By Colleen McGrath, Staff Photographer

REACH of Washington County celebrated opening its cold-weather shelter for another season Thursday in the dark of a chilly November evening.

For 15 seasons, the faith-based REACH has been giving shelter to individuals, and many residents and volunteers gathered in the cold to welcome the shelter's 16th season with an opening service.

"We have a lot to be very grateful for at REACH," Executive Director Jodie Ostoich said.

Each year, the shelter comes alongside individuals to help them and give them hope, she said.  

In the last three years, REACH has been fortunate to weather a difficult economy and find funding to keep its mission going, Ostoich said.

REACH's purpose is to respond, out of compassion, to people in need, according to the program for the service.

"I'm thankful the shelter was here," Harold Matthews said. "I'm thankful for REACH because it gave me shelter."

Humans are made in the image of God, James Martin said before offering a closing prayer Thursday.

When humans reach out and care for one another, that is their "God side" showing through, Martin said.

After Journey of Grace Band, a group from the Hagerstown area, sang a song titled "People Need the Lord," Ostoich gave the microphone to a mix of residents and volunteers to share words about the shelter and the impact it has had on their lives.

Jon Decker, a resident, thanked the staff of REACH for their guidance and assistance to residents in getting help.

Having recently undergone a heart bypass, Courtney Turner, a resident, said without REACH, she would not have had a place to go.

Leigh Kees said he has been a volunteer at REACH for about five years.

"In my past, I've been where the residents of this shelter are at," Kees said.

With help, he was able to take his life and turn it around, he said, offering those words as ones of encouragement to residents that they also can move their lives forward.

What Wilbur Brunner has seen in his time volunteering with REACH has made him wonder why he didn't volunteer sooner, he said.

"I see so many wonderful things going on," he said.

For most of the last 16 years, Mary Lou Koontz volunteered at the shelter with her husband, Clarence.  

When he passed away last year on Easter Sunday, she was unable bring herself back as a volunteer, she said Thursday.

Praying for direction in her life, she said she had a revelation on a recent Friday evening.

Holding back her tears as best she could Thursday, Koontz said that as she was walking through her living room that Friday, she saw a REACH T-shirt.

Unaware of how the shirt came to cross her path, she said she believed it was a sign that she was to return to volunteer at the shelter this season.

"I know it wasn't there and I don't know who put it there, but I believe that was my answer," she said.

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