Deborah Rhoad's voice still quavers when she recalls a film she saw five years ago.

Init, a woman and her daughter became homeless after a condominium project forced them to move from their apartment building. After a desperate but unsuccessful search for a home, the woman placed her daughter in a foster home, which she considered better for the girl than no home at all.

"That movie tore me up," said Rhoad, who lives in Laurel with her husband, John Rhoad Jr., and children, Devan, 5, and Brendan, 2. "That's when I decided I was going to do something."

The "something" turned out to be the creation of Churches Concerned for the Homeless Inc. (CCH), a joint effort by nine county churches that Rhoad organized in December 1989.

"Our principle tenet is to help people who are really interested in helping themselves," said Rhoad, president of the group. "We especially want to help families because of the number of children who are currently living in shelters. In such homes, there's hardly any family rituals or traditions. There's no place to do their homework or to bring their friends."

The group has approached its goal methodically, collecting money a little at a time. Some churches could afford to contribute only a few hundred dollars, others gave as much as $3,000. By October, CCH had collected $12,000. With that, members are housing and supporting a family of five.As the effort grows, Rhoad said she hopes the group will attract more churches and be able to help as many as five families a year.

CCH is comprised of nine churches, many of them small congregations: Emmanuel United Methodist Church in Scaggsville, Glenelg United Methodist Church, Linden-Linthicum United Methodist Church in Clarksville, Lisbon United Methodist Church, Mount Gregory United Methodist Church in Cooksville, St. Luke's Church in Sykesville, St. Louis Catholic Church in Clarksville, St. Francis of Assisi Mission in Columbia and the Mount Zion church in Highland. This spring a 10th church joined, Mount Pisgah African Methodist Episcopal Church in Ellicott City.

The first step by the group was to divide into two "teams" -- a housingteam, to locate affordable housing, and a family team, to work with social service agencies to identify available assistance.

The group spent one year talking to state and community organizations that provide temporary housing, including the Salvation Army, Citizens Against Spousal Assault (CASA) and two Columbia churches not part of the CCH organization -- Saint John The Evangelist United Methodist Presbyterian Church and St. John The Evangelist Roman Catholic Church.

Late last year, Rhoad said, "We decided to stop the research, and said,'Let's do it.' "

They learned of a woman whose husband had left her and their four children. The mother, who had done clerical and custodial work part-time, was forced to stop working when she couldn't find child care. A relative, who had been watching the children, movedout of state.

The family was living in a single room at the county's Grassroots shelter when CCH learned of their troubles. In February, CCH leased a three-bedroom apartment in the Oakland Mills area of Columbia for the woman and her four children, ages 2, 3, 4 and 8. Allof the congregations donated either time, money, furniture, clothing, linens, groceries, appliances and anything else the family needed.

When the family was notified on a Friday that they could move intotheir new home that weekend, excitement prevailed.

"The family slept on the floor that night because they couldn't wait another day," Rhoad said.

The group requires applicants to be:

* Drug-free for at least one year.

* Either a single parent or married couple.

* Employed or enrolled in a job-training program.

* In need of subsidized housing.

* Committed to becoming self-sufficient.

* Involved in a counseling program provided by an organization such as Grassroots.

After the family was selected, appeals for needs went out to CCH members.

"We had at least 25 people respond," Rhoad said. Some people offered to baby-sit twice a week. Others volunteered totutor a child in math. People offered their help with job training, and others offered to transport two children to a Head Start program in Ellicott City.

In fact, there is a whole team of volunteers lined up to transport the children, a job that involves at least two trips a day.

Now that the family is settled, more work needs to be done. CCH has formed a family contact team to assist the mother in becoming self-reliant.

Other details of day-to-day living are discussed, such as how-tos of budgeting, parenting and check writing. And there are other items on Rhoad's wish-list, like grant money.

"If we could encourage others to do what we are doing, wouldn't we see a decline in the homeless?" said Rhoad. "The mother told me that the minute she left, another mother and her four children moved into her spaceat Grassroots. We are just seeing the tip of the iceberg; we can only help one family at a time," Rhoad said.

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