Arlington Citizen-Journal

Texas homeless shelter needs help to grow. ‘On any given day, they could be one of us’

Special to the Star-Telegram

A big heart can accomplish a lot. Therefore, a lot of big hearts working together can make even greater things happen.

That’s the thinking behind the Arlington Life Shelter’s Hearts to Homes capital campaign to raise $5.2 million for additional space and services to the homeless.

The project, a new two-story building with more than 12,600 square feet, is planned adjacent to the existing shelter building. It will provide additional services, such as:

Seven family bedrooms. The total number of beds will be increased by 40 percent.

Classroom and small meeting room space will allow other agencies and volunteers to come and provide needed services and programming for residents, including employment information and training.

The annual number of individuals served can increase from about 1,200 to approximately 1,500.

Residents will be able to remain in the shelter on the weekends and when not working to receive even more services.

A computer lab will be included, which will allow residents to train and improve technology skills, which can lead to higher paying jobs.

Expanded children’s facilities and programming, including a state-of-the-art outdoor playground as the centerpiece. Separate rooms will be available for infants/toddlers, children, and teens.

Expanded and upgraded kitchen/dining facilities to provide for more efficiency in preparing and serving meals to residents.

One of the things that separates the Arlington Life Shelter, founded in 1987 by several area faith communities, from other shelters, Reeder said, is they strive to help individuals become self-sufficient in their lives. The program is designed to encourage residents to work and develop the traits necessary to return to stability.

“The real focus is to help people get back on their feet, and that’s what made the shelter appealing to a lot of people,” said Jim Reeder, Capital Campaign Manager for the Life Shelter.

“On any given day about 25 percent of our residents are kids. Another 25-30 percent are women. The board began to look at what we could do, because we just need more room. The shelter is always filled.”

For example, Reeder said the current facility has one room in which youths can play and do their homework.

“You end up with 22 kids in a 12 by 20 foot room. It’s not a good situation,” he said. “The kids area is the real bellcow of the new place.”

Reeder said a formal groundbreaking on the new building could be as soon as late March or early April.

Reeder said campaign support has come from throughout the community, including individuals, corporations, faith communities and the city of Arlington.

Reeder added that the Life Shelter is kicking off a personalized paver brick program for individuals to help close out the campaign fundraising. Information will be available at www.alsheartstohomes.org.

“It’s a great way to leave a legacy for yourself or a loved one and help the homeless in our community,” he said.

“The Moritz Building, named in honor of longtime supporters John David and Leslie Moritz, is designed for families, providing the privacy and activity space not currently available,” said Arlington Life Shelter Executive Director Becky Orander. “The shelter will be able to serve the increasing number of newborns, arriving with their mothers just a few days after birth. They will have the privacy and quiet they need at this time without interfering with children’s activities and bedtime routines as they currently do.”

Orander reflected on her early days with the Life Shelter and the impact it has made on her own life, along with the lives of others helped.

“On my first day of work 21 years ago I met young Benjamin (Mogendi) and his brother, the only children receiving care. Today, Ben, with a child of his own, serves on the shelter’s board of directors, using his personal experience to assist in the development of the new facility,” she said.

Reeder said there is a stigma that often accompanies being homeless that he doesn’t think is fair.

“About 30 to 35 percent actually have a job,” he said. “Issues happen. They don’t have enough money and get evicted, they go through a divorce, they’re staying with someone and for some reason had to leave.

“Truthfully, we could build a building five times the size of this one and would probably be able to fill it. We will continue to work and do all we can to help. These are our neighbors, and on any given day, they could be any one of us.”

"Words can't express what this means to me or them, and I just wanted to say thank you."

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