By RICK HAYES
MT. VERNON — —
MT. VERNON — For Sally McCowen, Lifeboat Alliance Family Center has been a lifesaver.
Down and out after losing her home and job, McCowen came to the homeless shelter in early December. She now has hope that life will get better.
"When I came in I had nothing. I had lost my job and my home and drained completely, even spiritually. Today this place means everything," McCowen said. "I was able to get a job, and it's home. I've been able to find employment and save money, and have a family again."
The organization held a ribbon-cutting ceremony on Wednesday to observe the opening of the United Way family wing.
McCowen said while her two children are not able to stay with her permanently, she is able to visit with them frequently.
"They can come and spend the night. They were embarrassed and didn't want to come here, but my daughter has visited. With them going to school, it's better for them to live in the school district," she said.
McCowen said after she was evicted from her home, she called a local church which recommended the homeless shelter.
"I want to get a home, continue working, and I would eventually like to go back to school and get my degree. Right now, it's just one day a time," she said.
The Rev. John Iffert, president of Lifeboat Alliance, said the homeless shelter more than any other project has "touched the community and brought people together."
He added, "This family wing will help moms and dads to make sure they're children are safe, and to take the opportunity to move forward, build an income and savings, and re-establishing themselves and their families in a stable way in our community. With United Way, we feel like we're a perfect fit."
He also acknowledged Larry Smith, who more than a year spent days and nights "coordinating and working and making sure everybody who volunteered knew what they were doing."
United Way of South Central Illinois is the sponsor of the family wing. Executive Director Rhonda Edmonson said the sponsorship is about helping families.
"It's part of our community impact work that the board wanted to do last year," she explained. "For us, it's not about the number of people who run through these doors. It's about the possible life transformation. We want to see that 10 or 15 lives we're changed, that people got financial stability, that parents get parenting skills and living in their own homes and having jobs. This is an investment back into the community, and that only happens because people in the community support United Way."
She added, "It's a long work in progress for us. We knew there was an issue with homelessness. We started having conversations about it and talked to other concerned citizens. It's seeing a strategy and goal come to pass and we're really excited about it," she said.
Lifeboat Alliance Executive Director Jenny O'Daniel thanked the case workers at the facility.
"I have been blessed by wonderful volunteers, but without my case workers and those ladies that visit with our guests everyday and come in on weekends just to check in on our guests, I couldn't do it without them," she said. "I feel like I have two families in my life and one of them is right here. Everyday I come home to another family."
"Jesus Christ our Lord answers Cain's question. Am I my brother's keeper? Let me answer it this way: Keeper, wrong word. Partner, you bet. You are your brother's partner, and together we're responsible for one another's good. Today, we give thanks to God for that," Rev. Iffert concluded.
Tours of the new family wing were provided following a ribbon-cutting ceremony, followed by refreshments.