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Chapel House

A bedroom at the new Chapel House building on Grant Avenue in Auburn.

The volunteers and staff at Chapel House have many reasons to count their blessings this year. One reason is their upcoming 10th anniversary celebration Dec. 2 at the Knights of Columbus.

Chapel House began through the work of members of Holy Family Church. The shelter doors first opened at 8 p.m. on Dec. 2, 2007. Clients received a late dinner, a light breakfast and were sheltered in the school’s gymnasium from 8 p.m. to 8 a.m. The first month, 33 men received shelter. Chapel House remained at Holy Family for a few years and operated solely through the work of volunteers.

In 2009, Chapel House received a large donation from Rhona Prescott, which enabled them to purchase and renovate a Franklin Street house to make it functional as a shelter. They appointed their first executive director, Sandi Mettler, and there were a couple of paid staff to operate overnight hours. Nonetheless, volunteers primarily ran the shelter.

In February 2012, Christina "Chrissy" Thornton became executive director. That year they began working with the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs to house homeless veterans. In 2015, they added rapid-rehousing programs, permanent housing programs, and purchased the property at 290 Grant Ave. to provide transitional housing for both men and women who are homeless. Currently, they have 14 full- and part-time staff to operate all of these programs, and serve more than 350 individuals each year.

“I truly love what I do and will always be grateful to the volunteers, staff and board members that got Chapel House up and running," Chrissy said. 

She is appreciative of the community members, businesses and churches that continue to donate time, money, food, furniture and everything else needed to provide for their clients. “I am grateful to the landlords that provide safe, affordable housing to our clients so that we may help them transition from homelessness to housing. I am grateful to the current staff and board members who support the change and growth that we have experienced in current years, and encourage me to continue to think bigger!”

Ten years is a major milestone for Chapel House. Chrissy said a lot of it has to do with awareness, as it was not all that long ago that people didn’t believe there were homeless people in Auburn or Cayuga County. During this time, Chapel House has provided shelter and support for more than 1,500 individuals. “Sometimes people have a stigma, or an idea in their head as to who are the homeless or what a homeless person looks like when the truth is, these are people that you know, and the need for homeless services grows every year," Thornton said.

As with the majority of nonprofits, funding is always a challenge and donations are an important part of the equation when it comes to providing for clients at the shelter, in transitional housing and permanent housing programs. This is year is no exception. Chrissy states they could use some me additional assistance this holiday season. They are seeking donations to help provide gifts for the 75 individuals they expect to have in the programs for Christmas. Year-round there is always a need for dedicated volunteers to assist in the shelter, cook meals, answer phones and assist clients with basic needs.

Chrissy, the board, staff, volunteers and clients are also looking ahead. They realize that the current location and structure of the shelter are not ideal for either clients or the neighborhood. They hope to address these issues in the near future. They are working with a private donor to begin a tiny home project within the city. The first home will go to a veteran.

Tim Donovan has been a volunteer with the program since its inception. He continues to volunteer, advocate and raise funds for Chapel House. He recently joined the board of directors. Right now, he is hard at work on the anniversary celebration and hopes the community rallies behind the good work Chapel House is doing.

Their 10th anniversary celebration is from 4 to 9 p.m. Dec. 2 at the Knights of Columbus. The pasta dinner is being prepared by the CIAO Cucina Crew (dine in or take out), with music by Perform 4Purpose and DJ Toby Rich. Advance sale tickets are $15. Information on this or any of the work or needs of Chapel House is available by calling (315) 255-1144.

Karen A. Macier, of Auburn, has spent 20 years working and volunteering in the not-for-profit sector.