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A Place of New Beginnings

Katherine Hanley Family Shelter offers refuge, training and hope.

During spring 2002 budget hearings, various entities lobbied for money from the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors. But one woman above all made an impression upon then Board Chairman Kate Hanley (D-At-large).

"She stepped to the microphone late in the evening and said, 'I know all these things are important but, when this meeting is finished, all of us here have a home to go to,'" said Hanley. "'Just imagine if you had no place to go, if you and your children had to sleep in your car, or shuttle from place to place, and your children had to change schools or miss school altogether.'"

Hanley then actively pushed for a fourth family shelter in the county, to serve its western part, and her efforts culminated in the facility that now bears her name, the Katherine K. Hanley Family Shelter. Its official ribbon-cutting was Saturday, Aug. 4, and it was there that Hanley shared this story.

The $6.6 million facility was built on 5.7 acres at 13000 Lee Highway in Fairfax, at the intersection of Meadow Estates Drive and Route 29, across from the Hampton Forest community. More than 150 people gathered Saturday to honor both Hanley — now Secretary of the Commonwealth of Virginia — and the opening of the new shelter.

"It was not too long ago when many of you were here for the groundbreaking [April 23, 2006] and, now, look what we have," said Supervisor Elaine McConnell (R-Springfield). "It was a vision of Kate Hanley's to have this building, and it is a tribute to her that it is here."

Dignitaries attending Saturday's ceremony included: County Executive Tony Griffin, Deputy County Executive Verdia Haywood, Board of Supervisors Chairman Gerry Connolly, and Supervisors McConnell (Springfield District), Cathy Hudgins (Hunter Mill), Penny Gross (Mason), Sharon Bulova (Braddock) and Linda Smyth (Providence).

Also on hand were county Planning Commission Chairman Pete Murphy; At-Large Planning Commissioners Jim Hart and Walter Alcorn; county Police Chief Dave Rohrer; Capt. Amy Lubas, commander of the Fair Oaks District Police Station, Dels. Jim Scott (D-53) and Mark Sickles (D-43), members of the county's Department of Family Services and area residents.

McConnell acknowledged the hard work of all those in the county who came together to make this shelter a reality, plus the warm welcome it's received from its neighbors. Then the Rev. Ronald Qualley of Lord of Life Lutheran Church, gave the invocation.

He prayed that the shelter would provide a safe haven for families "caught in the storms of life. May it be a refuge to the weary, a hope to those who feel hope is in short supply, a place where new beginnings can happen and a caring center where lives can begin healing from the traumas they have experienced."

Qualley asked God to "continue to remind us that we are to be responsible, one to another." He gave thanks for Hanley's leadership and her "untiring efforts to make this a better community by leaving heartprints in so many places." He prayed that the shelter would be a center enabling people to reach their full potential and a place "where people's lives can be changed and a positive future can be envisioned."

McConnell noted that the celebration was "not just about a building," but about everyone who played a part in its creation. She recognized Girl Scout Troop 4404, which meets at the Sully District Governmental Center, and which collected 1,500 books for the shelter children to read.

McConnell told how the Junior League of Northern Virginia furnished three rooms — a resource center with computer, a training room and a children's area with arts and crafts and a puppet theater. Then, turning toward Hanley, she said, "Kate, your dream is complete."

Board of Supervisors Chairman Gerry Connolly (D-At-large) said there'll be a return on this investment. "If we can help people get back on their feet and lead productive lives, it benefits us all," he said. "This is our fourth shelter in Fairfax County and we hope this'll be our last."

Currently, he said, 1,818 homeless people live in the county and 674 of them are children. Sixty percent are in families and 61 percent are working. So, said Connolly, "We have to redouble our efforts to make sure we have enough affordable housing."

Calling Hanley "a leading light in our community for many years," he said no one among his Board colleagues was a more "passionate advocate" for the new shelter than her. "She made today possible because of her political will and her vision for Fairfax County,” said Connolly.

Supervisor Cathy Hudgins (D-Hunter Mill), chairman of the county's Human Services and Housing committees, thanked McConnell, Connolly and Hanley for helping advance the cause of affordable housing here. "We're now focused on ending homelessness ... and we must prevent [it] in every way we can," said Hudgins. "It needs every agency at the table."

Noting that Hanley's "about details — the sticks and bricks," Hudgins said Hanley made sure that providing human services became part of everything the county does.

"She cares about her community and has been an active leader to bring us to this day, and for that we are grateful,” said Hudgins.

Linda Wimpey, who chairs the Council on Homelessness, thanked Hanley for her inspiration and said everyone must work together in creative ways if the county's plan to end homelessness here in 10 years is to be realized. "Housing needs to be the first step to stability, not the last," she said.

Wimpey then related a story of a woman she helped, years ago, via FACETS (Fairfax Area Christian Emergency and Transitional Services). "Susie was pregnant, had several other young children and was staying in a motel," she said. "She was stressed and depressed, and her kids played in the motel parking lot."

"Can you imagine the joy her children would have known if they'd lived in a place like this — where both she and her children could have gotten support?" asked Wimpey. She then asked those assembled to "be brave and strong" in facing the challenge ahead.

Jewell Mikula, executive director of Shelter House Inc., the nonprofit organization that'll run the shelter's daily operations, said the Hanley Shelter will offer families everything from intensive skills training and case management to painting classes and support services.

Mikula led a round of applause for the Supervisors, community and the new shelter's staff. To Hanley, she said, "Kate, your contributions have been immeasurable. We are all looking forward to opening our doors to the first residents at the end of this month."