Daily Independent (Ashland, KY)

December 11, 2012

The final piece

5 original agencies are all now in The Neighborhood

The Independent

ASHLAND — Saturday’s dedication and open house at Clean Start in The Neighborhood marked more than just the launching of a new ministry for the homeless in Ashland, as important as that is. The dedication also means the five nonprofit agencies that a decade ago joined forces to create a “one-stop center” for the community’s low-income residents are now in the former Johnson’s Dairy Building  on Carter Avenue at 25th Street.

The opening of Clean Start, which offers showers and mailboxes to assist the homeless in securing jobs, means the poorest residents can now go the Neighborhood for free, nutritious meals at Ashland Community Kitchen, for free clothing at the Dressing Room, to sign up to qualify for a variety of services through CAReS, and now to take a shower and receive mail at Clean Start, a ministry of Ashland Area Presbyterian Ministries.

The fifth nonprofit agency in The Neighborhood, River Cities Harvest, offers no direct services to the poor, but it annually collects tons of food from area supermarkets, restaurants, the garden raised by inmates at the Federal Correctional Institution in Summit, farmers who sell their produce at the Boyd County Farmers Market, the annual Stamp Out Hunger food drive by U.S. Postal Service workers, Feed the Children and special drives by businesses and individuals and distributes it to the Kitchen, the Salvation Army, Hillcrest-Bruce Mission and other nonprofit agencies that feed the hungry. RCH works closely with the four other agencies in The Neighborhood to meet the needs of this community’s poorest residents.

The five participating agencies created a new nonprofit entity, Neighbors Helping Neighbors Inc., as an umbrella agency to lead the way in turning the dream of a “one-stop center” for the needy into reality. It took longer than expected and proved to be most costly than projected, but the NHN board kept its eye on the goal and persevered.

Clean Start is the final piece of the puzzle. The seed that blossomed into Saturday’s dedication began when Julie Rucker Olt, then the director of both the Kitchen and AAPM, witnessed a group washing in the fountain in the parking lot at Winchester Avenue and 14th Street on a cool morning and realized they were homeless people who had nowhere else to get clean. She also became aware it is almost impossible for those who do not have a permanent address to receive public assistance checks.

Clean Start initially will be open from 1 to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday, but it hopes to soon add morning hours. It has two large showers and 40 mailboxes. It also has space where individuals can have their hair done and hopes to have professional beauticians and barbers volunteer their skills there.

Many who have helped make The Neighborhood a reality were on hand for Saturday’s dedication. They include Olt, who chaired the NHN board before resigning to attend Louisville Presbyterian Seminary and was a driving force in the early years; Kathy Schneider, who received a key to the city and special recognition; J.T. Norris, who has a passion for the ministry and has been on the NHN board since the beginning; Sheri Seagraves, who was executive director of CAReS in the early years and is now director of AAPM; attorney Pam Potter, who chaired the NHN’s fundraising board; and a number of others. Together, they attended many hours of long, tedious meetings and overcame frustrations to accomplish the goal.

While the five agencies are now in The Neighborhood, the work is not finished. Funds still need to be raised to pay off the remaining debt on the building and to create a fund to pay monthly utility bills. In short, the community’s financial support still is needed, and all five agencies need more volunteers.

The building also still has space for additional agencies that meet the criteria of serving the community’s neediest residents. Leaders of the five agencies hope more nonprofit agencies will move into the building.   

But the “one-stop center” for the poor no longer is a dream. It is a reality and a credit to this community.