For The Independent
Sheri Seagraves won’t soon forget the life-altering late morning — a revelation to her understanding of homeless society.
She and Julie Olt stood outside Community Kitchen when it was on Winchester Avenue. At the parish doors, the two women watched body-washing in a fountain near the Paramount Arts Center. It seemed a biblical moment.
“It was a cold day. It wasn’t like they chose to do it. They had to do it. It was not a choice,” Seagraves told the standing-room-only crowd gathered Saturday afternoon at a dedication ceremony and open house for Clean Start. The new center provides the homeless with hot showers, hairstyles, mailboxes — and a hand up.
This day is a decade in the making. Olt knew the cooperative spirit of Ashland would shine through, with teamwork and mutual aid of many support agencies. An Ashland Area Presbyterian Ministries mission, the new center will open its doors to those living on the streets from 1 to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday, with morning hours planned in coming days.
In The Neighborhood, a one-stop shop for needy assistance, individuals and families find filling meals, changes of clothes, and now a place to freshen up in hopes of building better tomorrows.
“This is an example of what can be done in this community with lots of good people working together,” said Seagraves, executive director of Clean Start.
Clean Start contributors, Presbyterian parishioners and volunteers toured the facility on Saturday. Two hair-shampoo bowls and trim stations await volunteer cosmetologists, and pristine tile restroom facilities and shower stalls aid those living without a roof over their heads. Outside, there are 40 mailboxes so the homeless can maintain permanent mailing addresses — making it easier for prospective employers to reach out.
Kathy Schneider is dutiful, devoted and dedicated, said Ashland City Commissioner Kevin Gunderson. He presented her with a key to the city and a governor’s citation for outstanding service to the commonwealth, saying her “DNA and fingerprints are on this project,” and so many other community-service callings, including the launch of Hope’s Place child sexual abuse advocacy center years back.
The Ashland woman still campaigns for victims’ rights with her husband, J. Stewart Schneider, Community Presbyterian Church supply speaker and a former Boyd County prosecutor.
The honor was a surprise for her. Schneider told his wife a fib to get her to the ceremony, saying he was speaking at the ribbon-cutting. She had other plans for the couple’s day.
“See, Kathy. Isn’t this a little better than the opera?” he chuckled, snapping a photo of his wife, who teared up as she received the citation.
Mrs. Schneider, 56, refused to take personal credit for Clean Start.
“It’s the community that did this — and the five churches that stood together,” she explained, saying, as a Presbyterian minister’s wife, the work just “came naturally, from my heart.”
Near the Christmas tree, several plastic storage totes were filled with donated toiletry bags, anything an itinerant man or woman needs to bathe — from trial-size shampoo and conditioner; soap; deodorant; razors and shaving cream; new wash cloths; and toothbrushes and toothpaste.
Russell High School’s Jerod Holsinger is working on his Eagle Scout designation in Boy Scout Troop 154. The 17-year-old collected 158 bags of personal hygiene items, with 18 more tailored for homeless-child use. Those contain small toys and Disney-themed toothpaste.
“I’m just trying to help the community in whatever way I can,” said the teen, gesturing toward several pairs of gloves and cold-weather necessities he gathered for work in The Neighborhood. “What I’m learning through Scouting I hope to carry on through life.”
Seagraves is thankful for all those who offered “time, talent and treasure” to Clean Start’s beginnings.
With that, Olt made a challenge.
“Continue to keep eyes open of needs that still exist. There are still people who need our help — and it’s our job to take care of them.”
Blessing Clean Start with a prayer, the Rev. Garrett Bugg sent Clean Start forward: “Now, let’s go fire up those hot water heaters and get people a clean start.”
For more information about volunteering or donating to Clean Start, call (606) 324-5802.