Bellows Falls Warming Shelter needs volunteers

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WALPOLE, N.H. >> The Greater Falls Warming Shelter is looking for volunteers as it plans to open its doors for the winter season in mid-November.

A training for volunteer shelter staffing will be held Sunday, Nov. 8, from 2 to 4 p.m. at the shelter at 23 Church Street.

The shelter is staffed by volunteers each night who serve in teams of two from 7 p.m. to 1 a.m. or 1 to 7 a.m. The training will cover the duties of volunteers, what to expect, shelter rules, and how to handle situations as they arise. The shelter will once again be located just across the river from Bellows Falls, and can accommodate 10 guests at a time.

Last year, 35 different individuals with unstable housing found relief from the cold at the shelter, which is open from 6 p.m. to 7 a.m. every day from mid-November to mid-April. A total of 226 men and women have been served by the shelter in its six years of operation.

Through collaboration with Our Place Drop-in Center and other local agencies, those few whose situations forced them to stay at the shelter the longest have since found housing and employment. Guests are required to meet with a housing counselor within three days of their arrival at the shelter.

The shelter is staffed by part-time coordinator Deborah Clark and opener John Janiszyn. Clark recruits volunteers to staff the shelter each night and she or Janiszyn is on hand to welcome guests when they arrive and explain the shelter rules. Another group of volunteers provides a meal each night.

Guests arrive with all kinds of baggage, literal and figurative, and Clark, Janiszyn and the volunteers try to make them feel welcome with a warm meal, a comfortable bed and relaxing activities such as reading, viewing videos or working on jigsaw puzzles.

"People come to the shelter for a variety of reasons," said Clark. "It might be loss of a job, mental health issues, fire, divorce, addiction, health problems, alcoholism, domestic violence, or family squabbles.

"And, contrary to what we hear some people say, most of them have local connections," she added.

Training for volunteers is ongoing and can be arranged by contacting Clark at gfwarmingshelter@gmail.com. She can also be reached from the shelter's Facebook page.

The GFWS board is inviting the community to come to an open house at the shelter Wednesday, Nov. 18, at 5 p.m.

The shelter is funded by individual contributions and a Housing and Opportunity Program grant from the Vermont Office of Economic Opportunity, plus grants from the Bishop DeGoesbriand fund, TransCanada and the Bellows Falls Rotary Club. The shelter is in the middle of its annual fund drive and is accepting donations at P.O. Box 44, Saxtons River, VT 05154.


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