karen cullen

Karen Cullen (left) at her retirement reception, where she collected donations for Safe Harbor.

Most of the clients who come into the emergency shelter have to leave their tangible belongings behind, and that is heartbreaking because many have worked very hard to acquire these items. They often express this to me, and I usually empathize with them. I tell them these things are replaceable, and that I am happy they are safe and alive.

In many cases, a client’s journey begins with a vital needs assessment, a stabilization plan, referrals to resources and professionals, counseling, support, and assistance to secure employment and stable housing. After we have found the perfect place for a client to live, their next question is, “What will I sleep on? What will I sit on, and what will I eat on?” Safe Harbor has a partnership with Caritas Furniture Bank, and for a fee the clients can obtain used household necessities that are available. However, they are responsible for loading and transporting the furniture themselves, unless they are able to pay a fee of $75 to $100. This fee is often an obstacle for the clients.

A volunteer named Karen Cullen contacted me months ago about a project she had in mind to make the shelter more inviting and upbeat. She also mentioned furnishings she kept in storage that she wished to donate to the residents as they moved out of the shelter. Karen was recovering from an illness at the time, and I told her to “do her thing” whenever she felt ready.

Karen accessed the decorative needs of the shelter and began to work. She and her husband Gary came to the shelter house on weekends to change out lamps, hang pictures, deliver chairs and start planning their next project. Thanks to them, the downstairs living room lamps now match, the pine cone-vase is no more, and the faded pictures on the walls have been replaced with mirrors and new artwork. What a transformation!

After living in the shelter for three months, Client H was preparing to move into a beautiful duplex but owned very few household items and had no furniture. I shared H’s situation with Karen and put them in contact with each other. Gary delivered furniture to H’s duplex, and Karen assisted H with furnishing and decorating her new space. Karen taught H how to hang curtains and use a hammer, but more importantly, she helped H make her duplex into a home and supported her through a scary situation. H expressed that she is so thankful for Karen and Gary.

Client B and her children were finally moving to their own apartment after almost 3 months in the shelter. B had lots of clothes but no furniture such as beds, chairs or tables. Karen and Gary came to her rescue, and B’s entire family now has very nice beds to sleep in and a beautiful kitchen table. Unfortunately Karen suffered an injury at work during the process of moving B and her family to their new home, but Gary was able to complete the furniture delivery.

A short while later, Karen walked into the shelter house on her cane to deliver a matching pole lamp for the living room. I am so grateful for Karen and Gary’s sincerity and generosity. The clients will forever be grateful as well.

cheryl_hunt_thumb2Written by Cheryl Hunt
Director of Safe Houses