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A Refuge

A Refuge

That’s what three young area residents want for the homeless in Shawnee area. And their determination and commitment to that cause brought the Governor and First Lady back to their hometown Tuesday night to help.

Brad and Kim Henry came home to show their “Hearts For The Homeless” at a fundraising dinner for the Shawnee Rescue Mission held at Oklahoma Baptist University’s Geiger Center. The First Lady, along with Tom Jones, director of Oklahoma City’s City Rescue Mission, were the featured speakers for the event which attracted almost 250 local people.

Shawnee Rescue Mission, already hard at work feeding and helping the homeless here, was founded by three determined young people in their late 30s whose faith and conviction are apparent — and irresistible.

Glenn and Melissa Blankenship of Bethel, along with Melissa’s best friend Angie Phillips of Tecumseh, are determined to raise about $150,000 to purchase a building to house their mission. ”We’re here to be a voice for those who have no voice,” Melissa told those gathered for the dinner. “Our work is only beginning … Lions are being tamed; souls are being saved. God is calling the people of Shawnee to unite … we can change our community.”

Jones, who operates the state’s largest homeless shelter, said he was “so impressed with this team” that they have worked “side by side with the Shawnee group for two years,” offering them advice and training. “They’re not waiting for the homeless to come to them,” he said. “They’re out in the street hunting them down … God is going to let something big happen in Shawnee.”

At the end of the evening, as he urged those present to help with financial gifts, Jones said this is “a dream God has for the homeless … This is a test; this is an opportunity.” Several of the homeless people the organization is working with handed out pledge cards as he spoke.

The appeal was answered with $40,000 in outright gifts, several monthly pledges, and several people who want to sit down and discuss “significant” donations, Melissa said late Tuesday. “We were truly blessed,” she said.

Earlier in the evening, the First Lady addressed facts and misconceptions about the homeless. “Too often, people think that homelessness is an urban problem. But it’s not,” she said. In a recent count in Shawnee, there were more than 100 homeless people “they could find face to face, and there are many more … They’re not always on the street. The fastest growing segment, she said, are families with children, which means “the ramifications go on for years.

“I am so excited to support the Shawnee Rescue Mission,” she said. “They are not only feeding and housing them, but they’re seeking the reasons for homelessness.” The new headquarters the group is raising money for will be more than a shelter, she said; it will be “a one-stop shop that can connect them with other services that can help.” She noted that Unity Health Center is already helping with medical needs, and encouraged local dentists and others to volunteer their services.

“Sixty-nine percent of Shawnee families live at or below the poverty level,” Henry said. “That’s an astonishing number.” She predicted that the local organization will “become a model for other communities and inspire them to help.”

Shawnee Rescue Mission held an open house for the community Tuesday afternoon at the Lamar building, corner of Ninth Street and Louisa, before the banquet that night. The goal is to raise at least $150,000, and receive approval of a matching grant from the Sarkeys Foundation to purchase it. Kim Henry is executive director of Sarkeys and has committed to helping the effort.

Meanwhile, work is almost done on their building on South Beard. Plans are to use it for resources for the homeless. The Lamar building would be used as headquarters for the organization.

While these long-range plans are underway, the group continues it work in many ways. Each Wednesday, volunteers go to the Shawnee Public Library with food for the homeless people who gather there. “It has been going great,” said Glenn Blankenship. “There has been free candy, chips, brand new coats and shirts, Bibles and of course lots of big smiles there week after week.” He thanked Van’s Pig Stand for donating the food.

And there are success stories. Blankenship said a man they work with” just got a job at TDK … he was on the streets last year with his nine months pregnant wife and now they have their own place and he's got a good job.” Volunteers provided new work clothes and new steel-toed boots, Blankenship said.

Recently, a couple that “spent most the winter outside got their own place,” he said. “We want to thank all of you who donated to them to help get their new place filled up; they are so happy. We should have their picture up on Facebook soon.”

A video and photographs of some of the people they’ve helped were a backdrop for the speakers Tuesday night. The dinner also featured artwork done by the Tecumseh High School art department, Barnard Elementary students in Tecumseh and Bethel Elementary students. Singer Jamie Smith entertained and offered $5 from the sale of each of her CDs that night to the mission.

For more information, call 878-8700. Donations may be mailed to Shawnee Rescue Mission, P.O. Box 25, Tecumseh, OK 74873.

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Mission Statement
For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me. - Matthew 25:35

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Address:  PO Box 1966 Shawnee, Ok. 74802
Phone:  (405) 878-8700
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