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Conway homeless shelter holds groundbreaking

By Tammy Keith

This article was published August 30, 2012 at 12:00 a.m.

bethlehem-house-executive-director-judi-lively-center-and-board-members-participate-in-tuesdays-groundbreaking-for-the-conway-homeless-shelters-facility-shown-from-the-left-are-kay-satterwhite-amy-kennedy-bob-fason-arlene-montgomery-lively-beth-eakin-and-guy-murphy-jr-the-7200-square-foot-13-million-shelter-is-being-built-down-the-street-from-the-current-one-it-will-be-handicapped-accessible-and-have-room-for-35-residents-as-well-as-eight-emergency-beds-and-administrative-offices

Bethlehem House Executive Director Judi Lively, center, and board members participate in Tuesday’s groundbreaking for the Conway homeless shelter’s facility. Shown, from the left, are Kay Satterwhite, Amy Kennedy, Bob Fason, Arlene Montgomery, Lively, Beth Eakin and Guy Murphy Jr. The 7,200-square-foot, $1.3 million shelter is being built down the street from the current one. It will be handicapped-accessible and have room for 35 residents, as well as eight emergency beds and administrative offices.

— Bethlehem House Executive Director Judi Lively said $1.3 million seemed like “a mountain” when the capital campaign started, but Tuesday, she helped break ground for a new homeless shelter.

Lively and a crowd of supporters gathered Tuesday morning beneath the trees at 1115 Parkway Ave. in downtown Conway, where the 7,200-square-foot, two-story shelter will be built.

“A verse came to me in Psalms: ‘Unless the Lord builds it, they labor in vain,’ and he’s building it for you,” she said, and for the community.

Johnny Adams of Conway, co-chairman of the steering committee, thanked those present for “caring enough to make a difference in someone’s life.”

He said that almost two years ago when the campaign started, he thought the $1.3 million would be hard to raise.

“We had a little recession going on — does anybody remember that? I’m here to thank God for paving the way for this,” Adams said.

“This is a great day for Bethlehem House,” said Stan Hobbs, director of constructability for Nabholz Construction Corp. “This has been a long time coming. We’re glad to see it’s finally going to become a reality.”

Funds are still being raised in the Hope for the Homeless campaign. Lively said an additional $65,000 is needed, and the money will be matched by the Mabee and Windgate foundations.

Jill Imboden, development coordinator for Bethlehem House, said the shelter’s capital campaign started in November 2010.

“One of our largest private donors is a neighbor [next to] where we’re building,” she said.

“We’re on this street already, so they know our reputation. It’s a peaceful place, people are working to change their lives, so I think our neighbors will be happy to see us have a nice place.”

The current shelter is in a 100-plus-year-old Victorian home, and it shows its age. The floors, the walls, the roof, the exterior — all are creaking, peeling or falling apart, Lively said.

Lively said squirrels play in the attic and occasionally show up in the house; a stream of plumbers hasn’t been able to solve the leak in the bathroom.

A few months ago, the leg of a bed fell through the floor, she said, and there is lead-based paint on the house.

The shelter can now house up to 20 people — single women and families. The administrative offices moved down the street to provide another bedroom, and a duplex houses single adult men.

“There’s just not enough space, physically. At dinner, we serve our residents a meal, as well as people who come in for the food kitchen every night at 6 o’clock,” she said.

“We’ve been operating in three facilities. [The new shelter] will bring us back under one roof.”

The new facility will have room for 35 transitional residents and will include eight beds for emergencies.

“I’m just excited that they’re going to have a safe place to go,” said Bethlehem House Board President Aimee Prince of Conway.

She said the current shelter is “falling apart.”

“We’ve got great programs, but now we’ll have a better place for the people to live, for people to volunteer and for people to administer programs, and for the kids,” Prince said.

Lively said the new shelter will have a playroom upstairs. In the current building, the only place for the children to play inside is in the small dining room.

A multipurpose room will be used as a classroom so residents can get additional life-skills training on-site, she said.

Residents are required to find a job within 30 to 45 days of moving in, stay drug-and-alcohol free, help with chores and acquire a GED, if they don’t have a high school diploma.

Steering committee member Nancy Williams of Conway, who was at the groundbreaking, said the new facility will be “just fabulous,” and the community has supported it.

“We’ve got a little bit more to go, but not much,” she said of the fundraising.

“We’ve got to have [donations pledged] by December,” she said, to be matched. “So, if anybody wants to make a donation, we’d sure like to have it by December.”

She praised the work of Adams and his wife, Stacia, co-chairmen of the campaign.

“Johnny and Stacia have been wonderful,” she said. Williams said Stacia Adams is selling Hope for the Homeless bracelets for $5.

Williams said people are also being asked to sponsor rooms in the new shelter.

Ellen Seay Roberts of Conway said she and her husband, George, are sponsoring the dining room in honor of her mother, Jewell Seay of Conway.

The original plan was to start building immediately, but Lively said she found out last week that the shelter must go before the Historic District Commission.

“We were unaware of that till last Monday,” Lively said.

Brian Patrick, director of the Conway Planning Department, said that is standard procedure for “anything beyond single-family housing or a duplex” in the Old Conway Overlay District.

He said the commission can make suggestions about the look of the project.

“They wouldn’t shut a project down entirely, but if they don’t think it meets the criteria within the old Conway area, they can make suggestions to match the guidelines so it fits into the fabric of the old Conway area,” Patrick said. “They can require them to change the exterior, windows, doors, the look basically, the outside. They don’t get into the interior.”

Bethlehem House missed the deadline for August and will go before the commission at the end of September, he said.

Lively said the project should start “within the next several weeks.”

“Our original expectation when we set this date would be that we would be able to start immediately because we feel confident that the money will come in,” Lively said. “When the goal was $1.3 million and we have $65,000 to raise, personally, it almost feels like a lack of faith if we don’t go ahead and step forward.”

Senior writer Tammy Keith can be reached at (501) 327-0370 or tkeith@arkansasonline.com.

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