Monday, August 4, 2008

New Homeless Center in Valparaiso

Note: I serve on the board of this new group. The idea? To use a beat up old building, rehab it, assist homeless men during the day with life and planning to get ahead ... then start a small business in the facility that will help pay the bills to operate. Simple eh?

VALPARAISO | Tom Isakson's excitement grew as he walked around the inside of the abandoned auto repair shop at 653 Axe Ave., just north of Duffy's Place.

Where there are now dusty counters, discarded supplies and cobwebs, he sees a computer room, exercise equipment and an in-house business venture, all designed to help homeless men regain self-sufficiency.

"This is not a crash pad, it's a launch pad," Isakson said.

Isakson, who recently left his longtime leadership role with the local Spring Valley homeless shelter, has taken over as executive director of New Creation Business Advocates.

The new not-for-profit organization, formed by a group of local Christian business leaders, is behind the creation of the men's service center.

The center will serve the men spending nights and being fed at various churches as part of a rotating shelter program operated by the Valparaiso Christian Ministerial Association, Isakson said. The shelter program, which ran a pilot program in February and March, will start up again Oct. 1 through April 1.

During the day, the men will be provided with opportunities at the center to clean up and look for work, Isakson said. They will have access to telephones, e-mail, Internet job searches, copy machines, resume writing classes and newspapers. They also can take advantage of exercise equipment and various counseling and group therapy sessions to help tackle the underlying causes of their homelessness.

"I know these guys have been wounded by their prior experiences," he said.

Isakson said he will serve as case manager, helping the men to set goals and monitor their progress.

Besides the more than 2,000 square feet of office space, the former auto repair shop offers more than 3,000 square feet of warehouse space that will be used for some type of business venture to put the men to work and benefit the center financially.

"We want to be like our men. We want to earn our own money," Isakson said.

A donation from an anonymous foundation will cover the building and rehabilitation costs, he said, but volunteer workers are needed.

Volunteers also are needed as receptionists and life skills teachers, including counselors and job coaches.

Anyone wishing to lend a hand is encouraged to contact Isakson at (219) 241-2777 or at tomisakson@aol.com.

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