July 14, 2010 // Local

Bishop visits Vincent Village

Bishop Kevin C. Rhoades joins Vincent Village Executive Director Ann Helmke, right, and board member Marian Welling on a tour of the renovated houses of Vincent Village on July 30.

By Kay Cozad

FORT WAYNE — Vincent Village Executive Director Ann Helmke, Vincent Village staff and board members gathered to welcome special visitor Bishop Kevin C. Rhoades on June 30 for an informational meeting and tour of the organization’s complex. Following congenial introductions, those gathered with Bishop Rhoades viewed a short video promoting the history and essence of the Vincent Village program.

During a brief discussion the bishop came to know firsthand information concerning clients served, programs available and funding for the village. Following the discussion Helmke and a few board members served as tour guides as they walked Bishop Rhoades through the St. Hyacinth Community Center, the shelter, youth services and around the neighborhood where several abandoned houses have been rehabilitated by Vincent Village.

Vincent Village, formerly known as Vincent House, is located at 2827 Holton Ave. in Fort Wayne, and serves homeless families with children as a transitional shelter. It is the only one of its kind in Allen County, working to keep families together. According to Helmke, it began as a small shelter serving up to seven homeless families at a time in 1989, and has grown to the current organization that provides shelter, supportive services and affordable housing for an average of 60 homeless families each year. 
The largest percentage of families served by Vincent Village is single female-headed, but the number of two-parent families have risen recently due to the economic situation in the area. Because the organization welcomes children, 70 percent of its clients are age birth through 18.

Helmke said the shelter, formerly the St. Hyacinth convent, provides a temporary home for up to 12 families. The former rectory holds two apartments used as part of the shelter program as well. “There are 60 families waiting to get in,” she said, adding that there is always a waiting list. Families enter the program according to the date of their application and begin an assessement process to identify their specific needs. The village is supported by 24 employees and provides services for two years, though families may stay in the homes for a longer period of time.

The 12 families in the shelter’s transitional setting are involved in intense case management services that assist them with life skills including budgeting, the dress for success program and parenting classes. The Literacy Alliance partners with Vincent Village to work with adults in the program to earn their GED, English as a second language and other important life skills. 

While living in the shelter, the families maintain their own bedroom and bath, comply with house rules, attend house meetings, perform chores and prepare their own meals in the community kitchen. The children that stay at Vincent Village attend their original school if possible as well as camps and structured activities during the summer months.

Youth services there offer tutoring and educational activities for teens and young children within the youth center, as well as referrals for children with special needs. As more than 90 percent of the children in the village are victims of abuse, Vincent Village partners with Park Center to provide support for children in the program challenged with emotional issues as well. Three Wishes organization also assists with the challenging needs of the three to five year olds. 

A personal touch involves volunteer grandparents who come to the shelter five days a week to read to the children and give them the extra love they need to flourish. 

As the families move beyond their temporary stay in the shelter, they have the opportunity to move into and own a home of their own. And that’s when the 32 restored homes of the neighborhood offer hope. Each abandoned house, purchased by Vincent Village, has been renovated for occupancy. Once a family establishes permanent income and completes the life skill classes, they “graduate’ into the Vincent Village homes. Rent for each home is commiserate with the family’s income. Gently-used furnishings are provided through the Mustard Seed, St. Vincent de Paul and other partner organizations. This, said Helmke, helps the families get back on their feet and become productive citizens.

“The mission,” she continued, “is geared to not just shelter, but to get their feet back on the ground and get them to different services.” The St. Hyacinth Community Center houses several programs where clients gather to receive services. New construction and renovation in the old church has made room for classrooms for three to five year olds, infants, toddlers and one large general classroom. A fully equipped playground is accessible to the center as well. 

In addition to the families being served, many feel the neighborhood has benefitted from the center there. President of the Vincent Village Board Marian Welling spoke of the revitalization of the neighborhood as Vincent Village grows. “The community with Vincent Village as its center is a lovely neighborhood. It made this a vital part of the city. The crime has gone down. It is family friendly.”
Bishop Rhoades was “impressed” with the program and said, “They are keeping families together, where some shelters don’t allow children. That’s very beautiful to keep families in tact.” He continued, “This is the work of the Lord … a holy mission. To see all the donations and the impact on the neighborhood. And the families who get back on their feet. It’s a wonderful ministry. I’m glad to support it through the Bishop’s Appeal.”

Funding for Vincent Village, reported Helmke, is broad-based, incorporating individual fiscal and material donations, fund-raising, the Bishop’s Appeal and of course, volunteer time. 

Donations of clothes, particularly large men’s clothes, maternity clothes and baby and children’s sized clothes can be made to the donation center adjacent to the shelter. However, Helmke said, they are most in need of diapers and dollars. 

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