By Katie Sobiech
Imagine for one moment being a teenager and having to get ready for your prom at a homeless shelter.
Unfortunately this is a reality for some.
“A mom and her 3 teenage boys had been living in their car for about 17 days before they came to ACCESS. They weren’t in a mini-van, it was an average car,” Joy Trachsel, PR and Volunteer Coordinator at ACCESS, said of the types of things their staff see on a daily basis.
“To see the mom come in with 3 teenage boys who were old enough to be aware of what was going on and see the anger in their eyes – they were mad at their mom – (thinking) ‘why do I have to get ready for my prom in a homeless shelter?’ and watching those boys really soften and when they left were in tears, stands out to me,” Trachsel continued.
“The mission here is to shelter homeless women and children,” Trachsel said of ACCESS.
They can house up to 11 families at a time, as well as house 10 single women without children.
“Normally clients call and ask ‘What can I bring?’ and we say ‘You can only bring what you can fit into a garbage bag’. So it’s interesting to think of what you or I would do if we had to condense our lives into a black garbage bag,” Trachsel said.
They see all ages, including babies to teens, who come through the doors on any given day.
“I see children who are going to remember these days,” Trachsel said, of the memories of staying at a homeless shelter.
“A story that stands out to me is a mom who came in with her young children. Because we have a medical clinic on site we were able to diagnose the baby through some volunteer doctors. The baby had cerebral palsy and the mom did not realize. Her life was in such crisis that she didn’t notice the baby wasn’t growing normally. So it was more than helping her get a home and job. We were able to medically help her with her child and connect her to resources,” Trachsel shared.
Where it got its Start
“ACCESS began in 1984 when the Akron Catholic Coalition realized that there wasn’t a huge amount of resources for homeless women,” Trachsel said.
ACCESS, which stands for “Akron Citizens Coalition for Emergency Shelter Services”, began at St. Bernard’s Church. St. Bernards, located in downtown Akron, has been the home of many good deeds, including Springtime of Hope, who they’ve allowed to use their building to feed and clothe the hungry.
ACCESS moved to its newest location in 1996, while maintaining a 2-year transitional home. This home, Step 2, is for single women without children.
“It’s really the next step. Ladies have to be in college or some type of vocational training or have a job,” Trachsel said.
What is Offered
When a client comes to ACCESS they are offered a variety of services and do have some requirements. This includes 10 hours of case management where they will evaluate why they are homeless and plan their next steps to secure housing or employment. They also go through 3 hours of intense counseling to get to the root of what’s causing them to be homeless. Following this they complete 3 hours of life skills training with a program coordinator. This includes resume writing, interviewing and other types of training.
There is a playroom for children and “The Cove” for teens. The teen hangout has video games, a piano and more for teens to escape to and relax.
Another bonus is that students do not have to transfer schools while staying at the shelter.
“Akron City Schools in collaboration with other city school districts bus those children back to Cuyahoga Falls (and other) schools. The longer we can keep their lifestyles constant and normal, it’s a benefit to them,” Trachsel explained.
How You Can Help
Though financial donations are always a need, it isn’t the only way you can help. They can also use volunteers as well as donations.
“We have ongoing needs to work with our children,” Trachsel said, ” A large percentage of ladies are here because they’re battling addiction and are put into a mandatory peer support program.”
This includes 4 meetings a week, which leaves the children without any supervision.
“We have to staff our childcare room in the evening so the ladies can attend the meeting,” Trachsel said.
They are also looking for individuals who will join their board.
“I could go on forever with success stories,” Trachsel said of all the organization is doing to help people on a daily basis.
If you want to be a part of this or are interested in finding more about ACCESS please visit http://www.access-shelter.org.