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Thanks for the Sheltering

Volunteerism proved a powerful force against cold winter nights.

Ventures in Community, the multi-denominational church organization dedicated to helping the homeless, did it — “Sixty days and zero deaths.” That was the goal of their Hypothermia Outreach Program this past winter.

Last Sunday afternoon at Rising Hope United Methodist Mission Church on Russell Road in Lee District volunteers from 10 churches and a variety of individuals received the heartfelt thanks of VIC leaders for their efforts to prevent any homeless person from freezing to death.

Throughout the months of February and March over 100 individuals were served by the program which was conceived, organized and initiated within a three week period, according to Pam Michell, executive director, New Hope Housing.

“It was really a miracle we were able to pull this off. It was a partnership with Fairfax County and the various churches,” she said. “There were 250 volunteers involved over the eight week period and many spent a night here helping.

The place she referred to was Rising Hope UMMC which served as the “shelter” for the program. There was an average of 19 individuals per night which, according to Michell, was equivalent to 1200 bed nights in hotel parlance. “You are about a ministry that is about life and death,” she said.

In opening the ceremony Reverend Keary Kincannon, pastor, Rising Hope UMMC, vice president of VIC and co-facilitator of the Hyperthermia Outreach Program, read from the front of the program which quoted from Matthew 25:40, “Whatever you did for the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.”

He paid special tribute to Susan Bentley, program coordinator, and James Dardin, part-time custodian at Rising Hope, who stayed at the church each night to assist volunteers with the homeless guests. Bentley was presented with a bouquet of flowers and Darden received a $300 gift certificate plus financial rent assistance.

Darden himself has been homeless due to the high cost of housing in the area, according to Kincannon. Through the efforts of VIC housing has now been found for Darden and his first month’s rent of $500 has been paid, Kincannon informed the volunteers.

Joining Kincannon and Mitchell in thanking the volunteers was Ken Disselkoen, co-facilitator of HOP, along with Kincannon, and region manager, Fairfax County Department of Systems Management for Human Services. “This was a real partnership, but it wouldn’t have been possible without the volunteers,” he said.

“This was really a big risk for all of us. When we started we committed to doing this for 50 nights. But, we actually didn’t have even one night covered. That’s when all of you came through,” Disselkoen said.

Speaking from the perspective of a recipient of the program’s goal was Andy Powell. “It was a warm welcome and very good to have a hot meal at night. The volunteers stepped up to the plate and made it work. Without them it wouldn’t have happened,” Powell said.

Since then, he told the group, he has been able to find work and a place to stay. “I feel very blessed,” he said.

FOLLOWING THE APPRECIATION CEREMONY Michell and Disselkoen outlined what they perceived as the next step for HOP and other actions on which VIC needs to concentrate — namely affordable housing.

“You will be hearing from us asking for feedback about the possibility of doing this next year,” Michell said. “We need to change our approach from sheltering the homeless to housing the homeless,” Disselkoen added.

“We need to change our thinking to find ways to make that happen. Fairfax County is the second richest county in the nation and we are the richest nation on earth,” he said.

The following churches provided overnight teams during the program:

Aldergate UMC, Bethlehem Baptist, Heritage Presbyterian, Mount Vernon Presbyterian, Mount Vernon UMC, Mount Vernon Unitarian, St. Luke’s Episcopal, St. Mark’s Episcopal, Wesley UMC, and Army Materiel Management College at Fort Belvoir.

Individuals from the following churches and the local community also participated: Christ Church Episcopal, Church of Latter Day Saints, Religious Society of Friends, Pohick Episcopal Church, Washington Farm UMC, All Saints Episcopal, Nativity Lutheran, Fredericksburg Church of God, and Rising Hope UMMC.