Sixteen years ago this week, The ARK opened its doors and welcomed its first guest, and it’s not been empty a single night since.
Its original location was in a home on North Bridge Street, which opened on March 1, 2006. Two years later, explained Cynthia Cothren, director of The ARK, the board began a capital campaign to raise funds for a larger home to serve the tri-county’s homeless women and families. Once funds were raised, land was bought from Hugh Chatham Memorial Hospital, house plans were developed and construction began, she said.
Unlike many homeless shelters which serve as just a bed on which to lay one’s head, The ARK is more of a support system, and includes a program from which its clients graduate and are able to sustain themselves and live on their own.
“The current home at 130 Hill St. opened on Aug. 28, 2006, and provides housing at a maximum of 23 to 25 persons per night,” said Cothren. “We provide free housing, food and we pay all utilities. We provide linens, pillows, blankets, toiletries, towels and more. As soon as a new guest arrives and settles in, Manager Christy Fritz will immediately begin an empowerment program to see what each individual need may be — obviously housing needs are assessed, job situation, transportation, child care, medical needs, education and training.”
With many of its guests not having any form of transportation, she said the process of working the Yadkin Valley Economic Development District Inc. (YVEDDI) begins.
“Jane Motsinger still affirms that it feels just like yesterday The ARK opened its doors for the first time instead of 16 years ago,” Cothren said. “Jane was among those who formed a special committee from volunteers of Tri-County Christian Crisis Ministries to investigate and develop plans for a homeless shelter in Elkin. Jane explains ‘The ARK’ namesake was meant to illustrate the fact that just like the biblical namesake Noah’s ARK, it would serve as a shelter and place of comfort for those enduring life’s storms.”
With a viable job market in Elkin, Cothren said the staff and board are grateful so many of their guests have been able to find employment. The guests are working with MVP, Candle Corp., PGW, as certified nursing assistants or are working toward education or job retraining.
“I’m currently pursuing two new grants for those at The ARK who would like to continue their education or require training programs to further their education,” she said. “This will hopefully allow for an income to sustain housing and cost of living.”
Part of the program at The ARK includes financial budgeting. “Statistics show those living in poverty can pay about 50 percent of their income toward housing. We require each guest to save half of their income to use for their housing when they move out of The ARK,” Cothren said. “This proves invaluable for finance and budget skills. It is such an encouragement to the guests to see this amount grow and grow, preparing them to move beyond The ARK.”
Success stories abound at The ARK, she said. One of those is a 19-year-old woman whose special needs were assessed while she was living at the home allowing her to successfully move into a Peace Lily, a group home.
“One of our current guests works at Pittsburgh Glass Works [PGW] and absolutely loves her job,” said Cothren. “If she has a day off, she enjoys the rest, but cannot wait to get back to work. She has been working and saving her funds that are a requirement while at The ARK. She is very close to finding a rental unit in Elkin and moving.
“One of our mots recent young adult guests was so excited to complete three of her four goals — she has her driver’s permit, has a steady job with the Candle Corporation, loves her apartment at Cooper Terrace and is working on her mission of getting her driver’s license,” she said.
“All of this is possible with the help and support of a wonderful community. You help us every day with financial support, donations of household items, food, toiletries, office supplies, clothing, cleaning supplies, yard work, organizing the basement and office support.”
Cothren praised “every church, business and individual who helps us survive by your generous contributions, we cannot thank you enough.
“We could not do it without your help.”
The ARK’s board of directors includes Jerry Stroud, president; Bill Johnson, vice president; Teresa Smith, treasurer; Patsy Burgess, secretary; and members Vicky Dinkins, Lee Pardue, Alyson Sprinkle, Debbie Brown, Brittany Eller, Pamela Rumple and Teresa Cook.
Staff members are Cothren, Fritz, Mildred Edwards, Faith Mayberry, Tracy Mays and Lora Evans.
In a continued effort to raise funds for operations at The ARK, two events have been scheduled. A Bingo fundraiser is slated at the Yadkin Valley Senior Center in Jonesville on April 15 with doors opening at 5:30 p.m. and games beginning at 6:30 p.m. Cost is $25 in advance, or $30 at the door, and door prizes will be awarded throughout the evening. Also, a purse auction is planned for April 28 at the Foothills Arts Council at 6 p.m. The purses will include some classics along with newer offerings.
Wendy Byerly Wood may be reached at 336-258-4035 or on Twitter @wendywoodeditor.