GRANITE CITY, Ill. (BP)–Edith Campbell has new grandchildren every three months.
Campbell is one of the volunteers at Good Samaritan House, a two-year-old temporary shelter for homeless women with children operating in Granite City, a struggling industrial town in the shadow of St. Louis.
At least three times a week, Campbell ventures from her government-run senior citizens’ complex to the shelter from 4 to 8 p.m., helping wherever she can. To the children who shower her with hugs, she is Granny. The 75-year-old member of Suburban Baptist Church of Granite City can’t imagine it any other way. “I prefer that. I’d rather be personal with them.”
Campbell is one of about 100 volunteers who offer their time and talents to the nonprofit Christian agency, which grew out of a community needs assessment tackled by Third Baptist Church of Granite City a few years back. As church members talked to community leaders, the need for a shelter for mothers and their children was a recurring theme.
While many Southern Baptists such as Campbell serve as volunteers at the Good Samaritan House, it has blossomed into an ecumenical ministry whose volunteers provide stability and friendship to the moms and children who walk through the former bank building’s back door. The women can stay at the shelter for up to 90 days while staff members help them make the transition to secure a permanent place to call home.
A staff member is with the women and children around the clock, and volunteers are on hand every night from 4 p.m. to midnight. The shelter has six bedrooms that mothers share with their children. The families use a single handicapped-accessible bathroom, although another shower is in a nearby laundry room. Renovation work that will add four more bedrooms and a classroom is expected to be ready soon.
With subzero temperatures putting the chill on much of the Midwest before Christmas, that work can’t be finished too soon, said Mary Kay Bonness, executive director of the Good Samaritan House. The agency receives four to five calls every day from women who need to make quick arrangements to find a place to live, she said. Once those rooms are ready, it won’t take long until they’re occupied.
Although the Good Samaritan House is a temporary answer, Bonness said staff and volunteers do all they can to create a sense of community for the women — many of whom have no family support system — to make it a home many have never had. “We become their support system,” she said. The shelter helps them learn life skills to help them make it on their own, including learning to live on a budget and preparing nutritious meals.
To live at the shelter, women must be at least 18 years old, have at least one dependent child and live in or plan to live in Madison County. A case manager works with each mother to help her develop goals and advance toward self-sufficiency. A variety of reasons lead to the women coming to the shelter for help. Some have been getting by from paycheck to paycheck, and a sudden job loss leaves them penniless and unable to pay bills. Others have been living with family or friends, who are struggling with their own finances and can no longer afford to provide a place to stay.
The agency first makes sure that new residents are enrolled in public aid so they can get a medical card and that their children are signed up for school. For some, it’s a hard transition. Bonness recalled one woman who cried herself to sleep on her first night at the shelter because she believed she had hit rock bottom. But she reminded her that this wasn’t the low point of her life; this was her first step up from the bottom. “All these women have strengths,” Bonness said. “We try to find out what they are and help them go from there.”
Women are expected to abide by the rules of the shelter, many of which are posted throughout the building. They are expected to be up and dressed by 8 a.m., preparation for the time when they leave the shelter and will have to report to their jobs.
Volunteers tutor as well as lead classes on single parenting, nutrition and exercise. They help with crafts, like Campbell, who spent a Saturday afternoon helping women decorate shirts for Christmas. And they play with the children, who are often behind in school and have behavioral problems. To help this need, the shelter just received confirmation of a grant to buy more educational toys, which volunteers will use to interact with the youngsters and help them learn. Individuals and churches that want to help the Good Samaritan House with other needs can call (618) 876-0608.
To Bonness and Campbell, the Good Samaritan House is more than just a place for women to find physical shelter. It’s a ministry and their spiritual calling. With a master of social work degree, Bonness has worked in secular environments that deal with people’s social needs and knows that “there is a different feeling” between faith-based and secular agencies. She has been the shelter’s executive director for more than a year, and it has allowed her to unite her passion for social work with her Christian values. “I’m not responsible for the poverty in the world, but I can do what I can to try to ease the burden.”
Campbell, on the other hand, doesn’t have any special training, but “my talent is just being friends,” she said. “When I can, I try to present the gospel in some kind of way, either by my actions or by personal attention.”
An Arkansas native, who would love to return to New Mexico and its warmer climate one day, Campbell knows that her ministry at the Good Samaritan House is where God wants her now — even if she doesn’t look forward to the snow and ice. One of her roles as she ministers to the needs of the women and children at the shelter is to let them know that God cares for them even when they feel life has squeezed them dry.
Brushing aside a few tears trickling down her cheeks, Campbell understands what many of these women are seeking and what she is called to provide. “They’re just in need of love.”
(BP) photo posted in the BP Photo Library at www.bpnews.net. Photo title: GOOD SAMARITAN.