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Reach Out homeless shelters look ahead to winter
A young man, Aaron, came wandering in from the cold, looking for a roof and a hot meal.
Only 19 years old, this boy had lost his father, and been forced out of the home by his step-mother.
During Federal Way's last winter, more than 200 men, women and children were forced to endure the elements — facing hunger, cold, violence and hopelessness.
It is in the kindness of strangers that people like young Aaron would find their solace.
Since opening in the winter of 2009, Reach Out Federal Way has served nearly 50 men each season, finding them housing, providing job training, and helping them reconnect with loved ones.
Nancy Jaenicke, Reach Out's program coordinator, said the organization started with just a single Federal Way church, a city grant, and the help of volunteers.
Now celebrating its fourth season of operation, Reach Out can boast more than 8,000 hours of volunteer work and more than $140,000 of donations.
“Our money is tabulated as in-kind dollars,” said Jaenicke. This means that donations of food, clothes and other goods can be given a certain dollar amount.
Although Reach Out began strictly as a men's shelter, Jaenicke and her team successfully opened a women's shelter in the Federal Way area.
“The next closest South King County women's shelter is in Burien,” said Jaenicke. “And that shelter is always filled to capacity.”
Reach Out reports that 21 women were assisted during the last winter season, with eight of them finding permanent housing.
“There was a worry that the women wouldn't interact with each other, that they wouldn't be social,” said Jaenicke. “But they became a family, they would talk to each other, laugh, do each other's nails. And the pastor at the shelter told us it was like supervising a teenage summer camp.”
Even though the women's shelter has only been operating for one season, Jaenicke is enthusiastic about the results.
“Our first two seasons we relied heavily on donations from area churches and a small grant from the city,” she said. “But during our third season we became a part of Catholic Community Services (CCS).”
CCS provides screeners and case managers for those seeking shelters and has brought a new level of professionalism to Reach Out. Previously, Federal Way's Multi-Service Center was responsible for screening and casework.
When the men and women enter a Reach Out shelter, they are checked in and given a hot meal for dinner. The men and women go through background checks to ensure there are no prior felonies or predatory acts.
At its heart, Reach Out spawned from the compassion of a select few people. It now thrives due to the efforts and actions of those just as dedicated.
Jaenicke is assisted by Willa Gaines, who coordinates meals and secures hosts for the Reach Out shelters. Laura Fiorito is Reach Out's information coordinator.
“We each have different skills and abilities, but we couldn't have pulled this off on our own,” said Jaenicke. “Willa is an amazing coordinator and we'd be lost without Laurie's familiarity with technology and social media.”
To make sure Reach Out continues successfully helping the less fortunate in Federal Way, there will be a fundraising breakfast on Sept. 25 at the Christian Faith Center in Federal Way.
Although Reach Out has access to more funds through CCS, the majority of the organization's money comes from fundraising and area church volunteers. The breakfast is crucial to Reach Out's next winter season.
If the breakfast proves a success, Reach Out will be able to continue helping those less fortunate in the Federal Way area. People who need a helping hand.
People like 19-year-old Aaron, who is now working toward a GED and has stable housing thanks to finding winter shelter through Reach Out.
It is important to note that Aaron is not the young man's real name.
“The problem with these people being candid with the media is if people recognize them when applying for a job, they automatically have this negative stigma that comes with being homeless,” said Jaenicke.
To learn more, volunteer or donate to Reach Out Federal Way, visit reachoutfederalway.org. Pictured below is the inside of a Reach Out Federal Way women's winter shelter: