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Among those representing the new downtown day center are: Janet Gray, from Ellsworth, a guest coordinator; Robin Thibado, West CAP director; Gail Winship, West CAP case manager; and Stephanie Stark, a literacy and skill coordinator. Submitted photo

Day center brings reassurance, opportunity for those in need

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With the opening this month of the day center, Our Neighbor's Place is one link away from completing a safety net for those jobless, without a place to live, or who find themselves in some financial bind.

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"People here should know that the day center is a physical site that will offer guidance and make available resources to any man, woman or family of Pierce and St. Croix counties to accommodate their needs," said Mary Jo Sutton, one of the leaders behind Our Neighbors' Place.

The group formed last winter to tackle the growing local homeless problem -- a problem church leaders were struggling with.

Calling themselves Our Neighbors' Place, the group has established contacts with various social service agencies.

It is also partners with the overnight lodging provided by members of Servant of the Shepherd Church. More recently it leased a transitional house from St. Bridget Catholic Church.

The latter will temporarily shelter and support a family who comes from the Grace Place homeless shelter in Somerset while transitioning to self sufficiency.

The day center, 136B Riverwalk, is designed to offer guidance from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. weekdays. The leased space is on the west side of Main Street with a large window looking onto the banks of the Kinnickinnic River.

Inside, space is plentiful, and includes a TV, upholstered couch, chairs, plants, dining room table, clean carpeting, fresh paint, a toy/play area for kids and a clothing rack.

"All the furnishings are donated," Sutton said. "We have tried to create a comfortable, warm, calm setting that looks like a living room and not anything like an institution. And since we're not right on Main Street, there's a degree of privacy for people who come see us."

The day center is a place where persons can get a set of decent clothes for a job interview, check and send e-mail messages, use the Internet, get connected with a ride for a medical exam.

In addition, Glenwood City-based West CAP has a satellite office in the day center.

Formed in 1965, the nonprofit West CAP is a community action agency serving low-income area families. Other offices are in Rice Lake, Menomonie, Ellsworth and Balsam Lake.

At the day center, West CAP will have a case manager (like a social worker) and a literacy and skills coordinator.

Sutton said the day center will function in multiple capacities for needy clients.

"It could be that someone comes in whose car has broken down and had to pay a big repair bill and now are short of cash to pay for rent or a utility bill," she said. "We also know there are women with children of single-parent families who may have a chronic illness, can't work, are behind with bills or need a place to stay."

Sutton stressed that the day center is not a bank. Money isn't dispensed to clients, only advice on where to go for help.

Sutton said that those who've stopped by the day center -- both clients and visitors -- are "overwhelmed" by the relaxing, spacious atmosphere.

So what more is needed?

"Volunteers, 20 or so," Sutton said.

Volunteers can work as guest coordinators who greet and check in clients, finding out their problems, needs and where they should turn for assistance. Sutton oversees the guest coordinators.

Volunteers can also work in The Closet where clothes like coats, pants, shirts, socks and underwear must be sorted, grouped and displayed. Brenda Yurs is the supervisor.

Call the day center at 426-9000 to volunteer or e-mail ourneighborsplace@gmail.com.

While there will be more material needs someday for the day center, the other best way to help now besides volunteering is to make a donation.

A Neighbors Helping Neighbors fundraiser is asking people to donate $10 a month for a year to cover day center expenses. However, any size contribution is welcome.

Here's how to do it: Contact fundraiser leader Carole Mottaz at Mottaz@pressenter.com or mail checks to St. Croix Valley Foundation/Attn: Neighbors Helping Neighbors Fund/ 516 Second St. Suite 214/Hudson, WI 54016.

Sutton is amazed at how fast the homeless group has organized and become operational since gathering for a summit last February at St. Bridget Church.

"I'm ecstatic at how quickly and well we've made this happen," she said, adding that Our Neighbors' Place is easing the pressure on pastors and their church staffs who before were trying to handle these problems.

As for setting up an overnight homeless shelter in River Falls, Sutton said: "That's the final piece we want to have in place to complete this support network and we're getting there. It's very close to happening."

Sutton said such an announcement could happen any day.

Meanwhile, the day center will have an open house late Thursday afternoon, Nov. 19. Look for more details in an upcoming issue of the Journal.

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