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Kiwanis to offer families shelter with transitional housing
Former Kiwanis Club president Ellen DeFoor speaks Tuesday at the Kiwanis Club meeting at the Gainesville Civic Center. Among the items on the agenda was an unveiling of plans for the Kiwanis Hope Village, a transitional housing project where families can live. - photo by SARA GUEVARA


Dana Chapman, the chairman of the Kiwanis Cares Committee, reads stories from children who have been helped by the Kiwanis Club, and explains that they are the type who could one day benefit the Kiwanis Hope Village.

The Kiwanis Club of Gainesville has been making donations to area children for years, but plans now are under way to give homeless children a place to live.

The Kiwanis Hope Village is a project created by the Kiwanis Club of Gainesville that will provide temporary, transitional housing for homeless children and their families in the Gainesville and Hall County school systems.

After sponsoring Christmas gifts for needy families in 2005, past Kiwanis Club President Ellen DeFoor noticed that what many children wrote down on their Christmas wish lists were necessities, not gifts.

"It wasn’t an iPod. It wasn’t a DVD player. It wasn’t even a bike," DeFoor said. "What those kids were asking for were sleeping bags and pillows and blankets. It touched us so."

From that small Christmas project, Kiwanis Club members became aware that there were children in local schools who needed not only basic necessities but a permanent home. For various reasons, many are homeless. In 2008, 301 homeless children were identified in Gainesville and Hall County schools.

"The biggest challenge that they faced was having a permanent place where they could live, a roof over their head, so they could stay in school," DeFoor said.

The HOPE Program, a joint grant program that serves to identify and find services for homeless children in Gainesville and Hall County schools, will partner with Kiwanis in the process of selecting which families will live in the Kiwanis Hope Village.

Erica Glenn, a Kiwanis member who works with the school systems through HOPE, would recommend families she thinks are eligible to the Kiwanis Hope Foundation Board of Directors. The board then would decide which families will live in the homes, said Strother Randolph, the capital campaign co-chairman for the project.

The Kiwanis Club has purchased land on the corner of Dixie and High streets for the proposed housing. They are planning to build two buildings for a total of four units. Each unit will have three bedrooms, two bathrooms, a kitchen and a living area, Randolph said.

Randolph stressed that the housing is only for families who intend to get back on their feet.

"This is not designed to be a free ride," Randolph said. "Transition is the key word."

Families will ideally live in the Kiwanis Hope Village for no longer than a year.

Families must also uphold a contract in order to live in the homes, pledging, among other things, to be employed when physically able, not to use drugs or alcohol, and to maintain the grounds and keep the house clean. Once employed, people will also give money to help pay for maintenance and utilities.

In addition to housing homeless families, the Kiwanis Club will also help counsel and teach life skills to families through a partnership with school case managers and qualified club members.

"We really want it to be a transition. So what we’re trying to do is take these families and retrain them and actually break the cycle," DeFoor said. "So these kids and their families can learn that there is an opportunity for a better life, and that there is an opportunity for an education, and that an education is the way to that better life."

The club’s goal is to build and maintain the Kiwanis Hope Village entirely by private donations from club members.

"We want to have cash or pledges in hand before we start," Randolph said.

No dates have been set to begin or finish construction, but Randolph estimated construction would likely start by January.

"We have an opportunity to change lives for generations," said Eddie Hartness, president of the Kiwanis Hope Foundation. "If we don’t help, they (children) don’t have a chance."

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