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A Gracious Gift

A $100,000 anonymous donation gives My Father's House a jump-start toward building a new 30-unit apartment building for homeless families
by: John Klicker, Cathe Wiese stands in the back entryway to My Father’s House while a worker cleans a window behind her Friday, April 4. She’s happy to see work continuing on the shelter. A recent $100,000 matching grant should help the new project get off the ground.

Cathe Wiese does the math.

'We turn away 100 families.'

Every year?

'Every month.'

On just one day this month, the executive director of My Father's House adds, she had to turn away 27 families.

Wiese wants to be able to welcome more families to the Gresham family shelter. That's why her organization is building a three-story facility on 2.5 acres of land, next to the Family Worship Center one block east of 174th Avenue on Powell Boulevard, that will house up to 30 families.

Construction of the facility began in July 2005 and has taken this long because the organization wants to build it debt free, she says, noting she hopes to see it completed sometime this summer. Wiese says $2.8 million has been raised and spent on the $3 million project so far, and that if the organization can sell its current facility, which houses up to five families, it should make a profit of $150,000.

An area family that wishes to remain anonymous is helping the project along by offering a matching gift of $100,000.

'It's a huge gift for a family to give, and I'm just so grateful,' Wiese says. 'I can't even imagine getting it.'

But get it she did, and so far donors have given $25,000 in response, Wiese says, adding that she hopes the community will donate the remaining $75,000 needed to match the gift.

When the new facility is complete, it will be accessible to people with handicaps -- unlike the current facility - and will include the following features, she adds:

• Thirty studio apartments, each with a bathroom and kitchenette, that can house up to five family members each. Larger families will be given apartments that are connected via doorways.

• A learning center on each floor, where residents will be taught such life skills as how to be healthy and eat healthy, balance their checkbooks and become good renters.

• A large kitchen for teaching nutrition and cooking classes.

• A children's center where children can play and attend such after-school programs as scouting, tutoring and drama.

'It's really important to keep the kids busy so they aren't out wandering,' she says, adding that the facility will also offer an after-school sports program.

Wiese notes that between 60 and 70 percent of all homeless people are children.

'The average age of a homeless person is 9.'

• Ten computer stations. No one will be allowed to use them unless he or she is at least 12 years old.

'It's not for games. It's for homework and looking for jobs.'

• A laundry room on each floor with coin-operated machines.

• A safe room, or apartment, right next to the live-in housing managers' apartment, for teenaged single mothers. Wiese says she and her husband, Dan, will be the facility's live-in managers its first year. She adds that My Father's House will also have a live-in facilities manager to maintain the building.

• A donated clothing center, as well as a pantry with food boxes to help families whose food stamps run out toward the end of each month.

Families who live at My Father's House typically stay between three to four months, Wiese says. Although there will be large-screen TVs in the common areas, no family is allowed to have a TV in their apartment, she says, and everyone must keep their apartments tidy and also do a daily chore in a common area.

'We don't want them to hibernate,' she says. 'They have to come out of their room.'

Homelessness breeds depression, and socializing with others, playing games with children and other activities and interacting in general can help lift homeless fathers and mothers out of a funk, she says.

'Would you hire someone who came in and said 'Woe is me?' '

Mothers and fathers are paired with mentors who can lend an ear to residents, and who occasionally offer such help as driving them to job interviews or medical appointments.

Wiese says that it's important for Gresham to have a new and improved My Father's House.

'You can't just throw people in a place and say 'Great, you've got a place to live,' ' she says. 'It's not just giving them a place to live, it's helping them to learn new skills.'

A community lends a hand

The drive to build a new facility for My Father's House has received the following forms of support:

$100,000 from the Collins Foundation

$100,000 from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation

$200,000 from Meyer Memorial Trust

$50,000 from Spirit Mountain Community Fund

$250,000 from Mission Increase Foundation

$2.1 million from the community of individuals, businesses and churches. The average gift of donors is $100.

The building construction effort has also benefited from the volunteer labor by members of several area churches, as well as significant donations of labor and materials from various area companies, including: Eagle Designs and Woodworking, Gresham Electric, GE Properties, Alameda Construction, Camp's Lumber and Building Supply, Home Depot, Dan Price Construction, Quantum Communications, Centerline, Inc.; Performance Floor Covering, Crown Carpets, Wolcott Plumbing, and Gresham Mini Storage.

To help

To donate to the construction of the new My Father's House, send a check or money order to My Father's House, P.O. Box 1147, Gresham, 97030. Indicate in the memo space either 'building' or 'matching gift.'

For information, call 503-492-3046 or visit www.familyshelter.org.