My Sister's Place provides shelter and self-esteem


MY SISTER'S Place, on the corner of Park Avenue and Mulberry Street in a storefront building that still sports an old-fashioned tin ceiling, is a daytime drop-in haven for women who are homeless and without resources.

It is open 364 days a year from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. On the one day that it is closed, the staff takes the women on an outing -- a picnic, probably the only time they ever leave the city.

About 50 women come in each day. There is a core of those who come daily; others drop in once, get the help or referral they need, and don't return. While physical needs are met, such as food, clothing, toiletries, a shower and laundry facilities, feelings are also nurtured in this shelter, where a sympathetic ear and a place to rest and regroup are soul salvagers.

One-third of the women have mental disabilities and at least a third have children.

All of the women who come into My Sister's Place need night shelter, and "we make every effort to find it for them," says Lyn Cameron, volunteer coordinator. "Some prefer the streets and we have no ability to change that," she adds.

Staff and volunteers provide a job information and referral service. They help women get access to their benefits. Cameron says volunteers are greatly needed for clerical help in the office; to greet women at the front door and serve snacks; to answer the telephone; to sort donated clothing for the shelter's store (from which the women can choose what they need); to help in fTC the laundry and shower room. Also needed are volunteers who have special skills to be teachers. At present the only craft taught is knitting.

"I began volunteering here in March as a project for Lent, but I haven't done one minute of penance because it has been so wonderful," says volunteer knitter Kathleen Harmeyer. She comes in Wednesdays from about 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. or 4 p.m. Harmeyer has a master's degree in computer science and owns an educational technology business that makes touch-screen computer exhibits for museums.

"What is so special to me about the shelter is that the women who come in to learn to knit often look afraid and cautious. I teach them on a knitting machine, and I have a video on how to use it, which they also can watch. Then after they have made something like a skirt or baby blanket, which is quick, there comes a beautiful look of pride on their faces. I love the self-esteem it brings to them," says Harmeyer.

"All of the knitters can keep the items they make, and we are hoping to find an avenue for them to sell them. However, they are so thrilled to have something new most would not sell," she says.

Money and wool have been donated in an outpouring of support. "I was given a large amount of wool by Leslie Solomon of Fiber Fantasy; money by my church, the Church of the Nativity in Timonium; and the Rotary Club of Hunt Valley. In fact I spoke about the shelter to members of the Rotary Club and they passed a hat. The audience of about 22 people gave me $253 for wool," she says.

My Sister's Place is administered by Associated Catholic Charities Inc. with funds from the United Way and private donations. The director is Mary Ellen Vanni.

To volunteer, call Lyn Cameron or Donna Blackwell, case manager, at 727-3523.

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