Eleven years ago a group of women met to discuss a vision two of them had for Whitley County — a place for the local homeless to find refuge.
Someone asked, “Do we really need this in Columbia City?”
A small ad was placed in the paper and at the first official meeting 50 people showed up. There was a need indeed.
Thursday evening, the board of the Lighthouse Interfaith Mission, Inc. met at Eagle’s Nest Event Center. The annual meeting recognizes those who have been instrumental in assisting Whitley County residents who have fallen on hard times and gives a report on the organization’s financial situation. In attendance were the board, staff, volunteers and other interested parties.
Tania Keirn, director of The Lighthouse, told how the organization began as crisis intervention and soon found that other issues needed addressed.
If a client didn’t have a high school diploma, there was a need for a G.E.D. If depression had developed, they might need counseling. If drugs or alcohol abuse was an issue, treatment should be sought.
“Every time there is a problem, we find a solution,” Keirn said, giving credit to a higher power. “A spirit higher than we are” is taking care of the Lighthouse. “When we need something, it appears.”
Sherry Sausaman, director of the Whitley County Domestic Violence Task Force, has joined forces with the Lighthouse and the Whitley County Community Foundation to provide for those trapped in a dangerous home life.
Just beginning its second year, the task force wanted a place to take victims of domestic violence immediately. There was a place in Fort Wayne, but nothing in Whitley County to allow them to stay close to their work and children’s schools.
Today, because of the WCCF and the Lighthouse “We can keep them safe here, too,” Sausaman said.
A new position, Client Program Director, has been filled by one of the first residents of the Lighthouse, Alyssa Stone.
“What an opportunity and what a blessing,” Stone said of her new position.
She recalled she had scared some of the staff 10 years ago when she was a client, because of her tattoos and size, but has turned her life around thanks to the Lighthouse and God.
“It’s a responsibility that I don’t take lightly,” Stone said.
Statistics for 2010 showed 90 percent of clients entered the program without employment and 52 percent had jobs when they left.
Fifty-four percent had permanent housing when they left.
All clients receive case management weekly and attend classes each week in parenting, nutrition, budget/finance, and abuse/self-esteem.
In these hard economic times, the homeless have it very rough.
“One resident so wants to work. He wants to take care of his child,” Stone said. She said he would go out and shovel someone’s walk for pay if someone would just call. Anyone with some odd jobs to be done can call the Lighthouse at 244-5266 to see if someone is available that really needs the work.
The last order of business was honoring the volunteer of the year.
Keirn was brought to tears as she tried to describe the difference Bobby Pagley makes daily at the Lighthouse.
“He comes in with a smile regardless of the situation,” she said. “When clients are discouraged, he is there” to encourage them.
Pagley accepted the plaque and gift from Keirn saying, “If not for the grace of God I wouldn’t be here today. He deserves all the praise and glory.”
Pagley doesn’t look down on those in need of the Lighthouse.
“The only difference between them and I is our address,” he said. “At any point we could all be in the same boat.”
The meeting ended with a thank you to all who have given to the Lighthouse whether through donations of money, time, food or clothing, and Stone asked for one more thing — prayers.
“Keep ‘em coming,” she said.