Talbot Interfaith Shelter unites people from different backgrounds to work toward a common goal: helping their fellow man
While America seems to be bursting apart at the seams due to angry social and political upheaval, the Talbot Interfaith Shelter is an encouraging story of a community uniting in love.
More than people coming together to simply provide shelter, this is a story of a community successfully pulling together, pooling resources and helping restore individuals and families to self-sustaining lives.
This remarkable accomplishment involves selfless people of various faiths (and some of no faith), backgrounds and differences partnering with the common goal of restoration. Amazingly, more than 450 volunteers serving on 30 daily shifts invest in the rebuilding process for the temporary residents at the shelter.
In 2008, while serving on the Missions Committee of Christ Church, Evelyn Sedlack became deeply concerned with the expanding homeless population in America. She quickly learned that despite Talbot County’s affluence, it also had a growing homeless population.
As Jayme Dingler, marketing and development director for the shelter, said, “Just because you don’t see people panhandling doesn’t mean we do not have a homeless problem.”
Operations Director Fran Doran said, “While the homeless problem is growing, there are also many more people who are but a ‘snowball’ away from being homeless ... one unexpected car repair bill, medical bill, or loss of job can snowball into homelessness.”
While it is hard to get exact figures on the total homeless population in Talbot County, there are currently 173 students in local schools who are homeless.
Sedlack passionately began rallying people from churches, businesses and restaurants, as well as community leaders, to come together and help the county’s homeless. She used an empowering model for community engagement employed across America.
Opened in January of 2009, today’s shelter began as a rotating shelter among local churches. Fire codes required no more than five guests could be housed overnight in a church without a sprinkler system.
Volunteers fed these guests, drove them to the YMCA for showers, and took them to laundromats. Because the guests had to arrive by 5 p.m. and leave the next morning by 7 a.m., Sedlack’s team realized that church facilities could not adequately meet needs, and accommodating more guests, specifically those with families, was imperative.
Sedlack’s leadership team grew to become the Talbot Interfaith Shelter (TIS), a nonprofit organization with a board of directors. They worked closely with the Talbot County Office of Housing, which performed a feasibility study for the construction of a facility that could house 40 people.
While plans were being drawn by an architect, one of the board members mentioned that his wife was considering selling her bed-and-breakfast. He suggested that this might make an ideal shelter. Board members were in favor of such a plan, and they immediately began raising funds to acquire it.
There were countless testimonies of generosity demonstrated as the process continued. One anonymous volunteer donated half of the purchase price of the shelter. Others donated funds or clothing, while many became volunteers and mentors. Other individuals met physical needs, such as the time a blind guest broke his white cane, and within 30 minutes of the Shelter’s posting the need on Facebook, someone supplied a cane.
Lives are being changed here, and not just the lives of the homeless. There are many benefits. People are given the opportunity to appreciate other peoples’ faiths, learn cooperation, experience the blessings of “paying it forward,” and simply offer a listening ear, positively impacting those experiencing rough times.
Neighbors who were originally opposed to having a shelter move to their street have become fans and volunteers. Children, including local Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts, have become volunteers.
“Kids on a mission are unstoppable,” said Talbot Interfaith Shelter Executive Director Julie Lowe.
Children have bricked pavements, created a garden, forgone birthday presents in order to donate to the shelter, and run lemonade stands to raise money. Best of all, many children volunteers simply do what kids do best, make friends with the children guests.
Going through the approval process to obtain a special exception permit took two years, during which the owners of the facility leased it to TIS. On the very day the two-year lease expired, the use permit was issued. On Nov. 20, 2014 the doors of the official shelter opened.
“While we are an interfaith shelter, we specifically keep faith out of the conversations, and no proselytizing happens,” Dingler said. “But I can tell you this ... things magically appear just when we need them, so we know ‘someone’ is watching over us.”
While the facility, having been a bed-and-breakfast, does allow guests to experience a home-like atmosphere as they stabilize, Doran’s goal is to restore guests to self-sufficiency. Doran guides staff and volunteers in a coordinated process to help guests transition from trauma to stability, to self-sustaining lives. It is lovingly called “the Fran Plan.”
Doran, who has a master’s degree in healthcare and 20 years of social and healthcare experience, focuses on connecting guests with government and community agencies while re-establishing their confidence. She oversees classes in parenting, money management, and job interviewing skills.
The Talbot Interfaith Shelter also owns and leases eight apartments on a graduated subsidy basis to guests as they return to the workforce. Longterm goals for the shelter include a million-dollar endowment that would provide consistent revenue generated by a thrift store while teaching practical job skills.
The biggest challenge the shelter faces is not the restoration process, but affordable housing that would enable guests to become self-sufficient. For someone getting back on their feet, affordable rent is crucial. Another hurdle is affordable transportation that would allow guests to acquire and maintain higher paying jobs.