Salvation Army Athens

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What might have been a woeful experience for Shylexius and her baby, Brooklynn, was transformed into a joyful memory, thanks to the Salvation Army in Athens.

Shylexius was entering her third trimester of pregnancy when her mom lost hours from her job and couldn’t pay for car repairs. Her mother, Katrina, ended up losing her transportation, job and home. Katrina moved her family, including Shylexius and her four siblings, into the Salvation Army’s Center of Hope shelter in Athens just as the pandemic was starting to ramp up.

“She had stayed here briefly a year before,” says Salvation Army Captain Mechelle Henry, who oversees the shelter with her husband, Erik. “I knew she was trustworthy and hardworking, so I offered her a job as a dorm monitor. It’s part-time, but with COVID she worked extra hours and was able to get back into public housing in June.”

During their four-month stay at the shelter, Katrina’s family was showered with love. And at a baby shower shortly before the baby arrived, employees and volunteers gave the family “enough diapers to last six months,” according to Mechelle.

On May 21, baby Brooklynn was born at Athens Piedmont Hospital. Four days later, mother and child returned “home” to the shelter. “I’m more than grateful,” Shylexius said while cradling her 2-week-old baby in June. “I’m so thankful we were able to stay here.”

“It’s been a privilege,” Katrina added, “to have a roof over our heads.”

Prior to the pandemic, Center of Hope operated as an emergency shelter, open 365 days a year but only at night. Typically in the daytime, shelter residents go to work or look for jobs. But starting in March, jobs and job opportunities were gone.

“As the number of COVID cases rose, so did its impact on those who need the Salvation Army,” says Mechelle. To meet the rapidly growing need, the shelter opened around-the-clock. Daily operations changed dramatically. Social distancing allowed only 54 of the shelter’s 76 beds to be in use. Extra cleaning was done twice daily, and residents were provided masks.

“It’s a different kind of different; we just have to work around whatever the barriers are,” says Mechelle, noting that the Jackson EMC Foundation grant was instrumental in keeping their services ongoing. “As we got into shelter in place in mid-March, a lot of businesses started closing and, by April, people were asking us for assistance with rent and utilities. We helped a lot of people stay in their homes by paying their rent. And with our shelter care, we helped people with their medicines, helped them look for an apartment, look for jobs, and helped clothe some of them. When it comes to housing, it’s a little bit of everything.”

With their thrift store closed due to COVID-19, the Salvation Army needed assistance.

“Donations went down, but people still needed help,” says Mechelle. “The Jackson EMC Foundation grant came at a wonderful time. Because of it, we knew that when people came to us and asked for help, we would be able to provide it.”