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Shelter, religious center helps people in transition
Just a month into operations of the Amen Center at the former Delta Elementary School, Danny and Shirley Hollowell say they are floored by the amount of community support they've received.
So far, area churches have stepped up to paint and furnish rooms. Others have seen information about the shelter in the media and have shown up to help.
The transitional housing shelter and nondenominational religious center for the homeless or abused has provided service to nine people so far, and the couple expects another four by the end of next week. The center currently houses five people.
Brittany Tidwell, 22, from Chaffee, Mo., is staying at the shelter now. Eight months ago, she lost her job, then her home, she said. Her two children, a 4-year-old daughter and 5-year-old son, have been staying with their father since then.
She said she wasn't sure what would have happened to her had she not heard about the shelter. She was sleeping in her car and staying weekends at the Town House Inn in Cape Girardeau on vouchers from the Salvation Army and the Jackson Police Department.
"That was the only time I could have my kids," she said.
Tidwell has some family in the area, but said she couldn't stay with them. She thought about other shelters, but said she felt safest at the Amen Center. The shelter also has grassy areas for her children to play.
She said she has grown up in her time at the Amen Center and that the center has finally given her an opportunity to form a bond with her children that she felt had been missing. Last week the children stayed at the shelter with her Thursday through Sunday.
Youth groups from churches in Marble Hill, Mo., turned one of the old classrooms into a playroom for children, and some of Shirley Hollowell's family donated a roomful of toys.
"I have never been able to be with my kids like that," Tidwell said. "We were laughing and playing and they loved it here. I feel like because I am here I'm now being the mom I always knew I could be."
Tidwell said she has already filled out many job applications with the help of the Hollowells and has plans to get her own apartment as soon as she can pay some debt and straighten out her finances.
The Hollowells bought the school from Delta School District for $159,000, which they plan to pay over three years. The Hollowells have arranged the 30,000-square-foot building so that singles, couples and families can stay there. After the last classroom is converted into a bedroom, the shelter will be able to hold 75 people. The Hollowells live at the center. They sold their Cape Girardeau home and converted two classrooms into a living area over the summer.
Sandy Mize of Jackson volunteers at the shelter three days a week. She heard about the project from her cousin, who attends Marble Hill United Methodist Church. The church helped fix up one of the rooms at the center.
After visiting the center, she decided she wanted to help. She began to stop by and supervise the residents when the Hollowells needed to leave to run errands or take a resident to pick up or drop off job applications.
"You go into something like this, and you think, ‘I'll go one time, I'll paint one wall.' Then you get hooked," she said. "I was just inspired by Shirley and Danny doing this for these people and asking nothing in return."
Mize said she sees the shelter as a place where people are being helped to move from one stage of life to another, and are taught how to cope with tough situations while doing it.
"They aren't told everything is going to be all right," she said. "They are told they have to be strong."
Danny Hollowell said the progress the shelter has made means now is a good time to begin focusing on how to help people make transitions. He has arranged for a speaker to come and work with residents on budgeting, management of finances, resumes and job interview skills. The shelter is also holding public church services on Sunday evenings and Bible study sessions on Tuesday evenings.
Danny Hollowell said he expects an approval of a 501(c)3 not-for-profit status of the shelter next week. That status will allow operations to continue with the possibility of receiving grants, he said. Lease, insurance and electricity for the five guests and the Hollowells is around $3,500 per month.
Danny Hollowell recently returned to his night job at Standley Batch in Cape Girardeau to help make the payments, but anticipates a greater need for money as the weather turns colder.
He said the school district told him the heating or cooling costs of the building were around $1,600 per month in the coldest and warmest months of the year. For now, the heating and air systems are kept off as much as possible, as are the lights when not in use, he said.
Mize said the shelter is now well-outfitted to help people. One classroom is left to be sponsored, and the only things left needed to fully stock a room of clothing for residents are winter coats and children's shoes.
"What we need now are love, money and prayers," she said.
The Amen Center can be reached at 573-576-1113.