A fresh coat of paint, new furniture and matching linens certainly brought smiles to the faces of those living in the “Strength” room at Racine’s Homeless Assistance Leadership Organization (HALO) shelter. But what really transformed the sleeping quarters, which houses six women, was the caring and devotion that members of the Lutheran Church of the Resurrection put into renovating the room.
In December, a group of volunteers from the local church spent three days at the homeless shelter stripping wax, painting, assembling furniture, hanging artwork and mirrors, and much more as they gave the room a complete facelift. And they aren’t the only ones who deserve credit for the project.
The church’s youth, for example, donated $1,027 to the cause, having raised the money by sleeping outside on the night before Halloween. The youth got a taste of what it might feel like to be homeless, and people pledged money to see them do so. They gave all of the money they raised to the room renovation.
Other members of the congregation also took part, donating money and supplies to the project, which cost about $2,200, according to Adele Helmle, who led the team from Lutheran Church of the Resurrection.
Thanks to the congregation’s generosity, it took just one month to collect all the items needed for the project, Helmle said. And some — such as the bed quilts and the under-bed storage boxes — were handmade by members of the church.
The women who live in the “Strength” room — one of 20 sleeping rooms at HALO — were very grateful for their new quarters and its amenities, Helmle said. She and the rest of the church volunteers were pleased to be able to lend a hand and found the experience to be very rewarding.
“I still get teary-eyed when I think about it,” Helmle said.
Members of the Lutheran Church of the Resurrection hope to be able to renovate another of the shelter’s rooms sometime in the future. They also hope their work will inspire other congregations to adopt a room at HALO.
Such renovation projects are one of several ways in which volunteers from area churches get involved at the shelter, according to Brenda Thomas, development assistant for HALO. The Apostolic Faith Church, for example, comes to HALO on Friday evenings for Men’s Bible Study; Downtown’s HOPES Center, a project of the Racine Dominicans, offers counseling services to HALO’s clients regularly; and Evangelical United Methodist Church does a large annual project.
Several area congregations have been cooking and serving dinner to shelter residents on a monthly basis since HALO opened its doors in 2005. For example, Rose Veselik and her sister, Evie Jorgensen, lead a team of about eight to 10 volunteers from St. Rita Parish that prepares dinner for men at HALO on the second Wednesday of every month.
In addition to cooking and serving everything from chili to a ham dinner — complete with mashed potatoes and vegetables — Veselik said she enjoys getting to know the people at HALO. “We’ve met some pretty interesting people through the years,” she said. “The men are always very grateful to see us.”
The importance of helping the less fortunate is something Veselik says she and Jorgensen learned at an early age from their parents, who often offered meals to those in need at their Main Street home.
“It seems like we always had someone on the back porch eating a sandwich, and my mother often invited soldiers over for meals,” she said. “I guess it is just in us to help others.”
Grace Church has also been cooking and serving at HALO since it opened. Janice Stillman and other members of the congregation staff the kitchen on the men’s side one Sunday a month, as well as on holidays such as Thanksgiving and Christmas.
“It is a chance to show God’s love to the community,” Stillman said.
Mealtime is also when volunteers from St. Richard Parish work at the shelter. What started out as a group of three women, cooking for the women’s side, has grown into a team of volunteers large enough to staff both the men’s and women’s kitchens once a month, explained Monique Monroe, one of the original three volunteers.
“It is important for our church to do things for the surrounding community, and this is something that is not only needed, but very much appreciated,” Monroe said.
Other area congregations that cook and serve in HALO’s kitchens include Covenant Presbyterian Church, Christian Faith Fellowship Church of Racine, and the Searching Together Baptist Church. And church groups aren’t the only ones volunteering their time in the kitchen, Thomas said. Several business-based groups have also been serving dinner at HALO for many years.
For more information about HALO and volunteer opportunities, call (262) 633-3235, ext. 142, or go to http://www.haloinc.org