For the Record
“Right now, we have five children living here. We have two single dads. We have had up to 10 kids living here.”
Harvey County Homeless Shelter Director
NEWTON – On Saturday, June 1at Grace Community Church, the first ever Jam for Jesus event to benefit the children of the Harvey County Homeless Shelter (HCHS) will take place from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.
Musical entertainment will be the Life Church Band from Augusta and Mark Logan of Newton. “It will be a good event with gospel music and food,” said one of the coordinators, Janette Wranosky.
Wranosky and Richard Diehl, of Halstead, have been planning the event since February.
The fun event is designed to raise money and awareness for a serious problem – homeless children living in the Harvey County shelter.
“One day, I was talking to a boy who lived here. All of a sudden, he just goes white as a sheet. I look back and some kids had come in to do some work. He took off for his family’s room. I went and looked for him and all this boy would say was, ‘How many are there?’ I went back and looked, came back and told him there were three kids out there. He said, ‘All of them are in my class.’ My heart just dropped for this kid. Here he was a 13-year-old, and these things matter to kids that are 13. You don’t want people to know you are homeless,” said Diehl.
The Harvey County Homeless Shelter provides a safe space for families.
“There are parents, a lot of single dads, if they are homeless and they have their children with them, they are at least doing what they can to keep their family together,” said Diehl.
Wranosky said the children who live at the shelter are part of the larger community, attending school, church and participating in activities, as any child would.
“These kids are going to play with your kids and go to school with them. I bet you have seen these families in restaurants and live near them as neighbors. They are children. How would you want your children treated?” said Wranosky.
Diehl emphasized the message that children of parents who have fallen on hard times deserve the same respect as any other child in the community.
“Kids are kids. These children, same as the other residents, have problems because they know they are looked down on. We are preaching to the choir of volunteers who know kids are just kids. We want to get that message to other people,” said Diehl.
Bethany Busenitz, Director of the HCHS, said many times homeless individuals are less conspicuous in rural and small communities.
“Rural homeless look different than urban homeless. They are not sleeping on the street. They are staying with friends. But they still are homeless. They may have a bed, but it is not their own,” said Busenitz.
Combating the stigma of homelessness is not an easy task for shelter volunteers.
“There is a stereotype that comes with homelessness that has been perpetuated by the movies and media and in the news. Not all people who are homeless are on drugs or drink. Most of the time, people are here because of a death in the family or a divorce,” said Wranosky.
Busenitz said the face of homelessness can often be a young person unsure of how to function when thrust into the adult world.
“We get a lot of young 18-year-olds who have aged out of the system and don’t know how to do life by themselves,” said Busenitz.
Wranosky said having volunteers who have experienced homelessness gives them the ability to relate and council children and adults who are struggling with their situation.
“We have former homeless people who come and help and know how to help these kids. They have problems at school with being teased. We have over 600 volunteers and these kids will cry and tell you how it really is,” said Wranosky.
Those who give time to the shelter have come to appreciate the struggles and challenges faced by residents.
“Volunteers have empathy and feelings for these people. We love them,” said Wranosky.
The care shown to those who come to the shelter comes in many forms.
“The people who come here get home-cooked meals every night. Churches bring in food every single day so people will have something good to eat. Volunteers cover shifts from 5 p.m. to 10 p.m. then from 10 p.m. to 8 a.m. These are all volunteers,” said Wranosky.
“We use community resources like Team Employment, Health Ministries, Salvation Army and many, many others. Sometimes we have to mentor people on things like, how to make phone calls and how to go through an interview, fill out applications,” said Busenitz.
“We are giving people the resources to start over for whatever reason they need them,” said Wranosky.
Busenitz said those who come to the shelter need not only different resources, but different amounts of time to meet their needs.
“There is no ‘normal’ for a stay here. We have people here for three hours, to shower and eat – though that doesn’t happen often – and we have people who are here for a year,” said Busenitz.
One of the most remarkable characteristics of the HCHS is the lack of governmental funding.
“There is no state money, no federal money, it is all straight from the heart,” said Diehl.
“This is the only shelter I know of that is run without state or federal funding. It is all volunteer and all donation,” said Wranosky.
For Wranosky and Diehl, Jam For Jesus is a way to bring more volunteers to the shelter and raise more funds for the organization.
“What is cool is everyone brings something different to the table. We are trying to celebrate. We want there to be more of these type of events,” said Diehl.
“Right now, this is about awareness and not all about the money. We have to have it to pay the bills and keep this place open. But we need people to know there is a need,” said Wranosky.
The mission of the shelter is not only to provide temporary food and housing, but to help those in Harvey County get back on their feet.
“Because we are faith-based, we have love for people and want to give them the stability of Jesus. We try to get them to resources so it isn’t just a band-aid. We want to help people get to the issues they have, what is really wrong, and address it. After that, the job and family stability will come,” said Busenitz.
“Sometimes you have to stand by people who self-destruct. People are complicated. We can’t do it all, but we can do something,” said Diehl.