When it comes to helping out fellow residents of Anchor House, Dooder Mitchell doesn’t mind doing the heavy lifting — literally.
On Wednesday morning, the 21-year-old was part of a small crew of volunteers who spent the day moving and setting up furniture in Anchor House Family Assistance Center’s newly renovated apartments in Seymour.
The biggest job consisted of disassembling bunk beds, carrying the frames and mattresses over to the new property and reassembling them. In some cases, that meant going up and down a flight of stairs. Other items, including futons, coffee tables, televisions and picnic tables that are being used as kitchen tables, already had been set up.
[sc:text-divider text-divider-title=”Story continues below gallery” ]
Residents were expected to move personal belongings and spend their first night in their new but temporary homes Wednesday.
Families who live at Anchor House are there for only eight weeks while they receive assistance. That way, more people are helped. During their stay, adults must find employment and save money to be able to move out and support their children on their own.
Located less than 50 feet north of Anchor House’s main building at 250 S. Vine St., the two apartment buildings provide living space for seven homeless families, nearly doubling the shelter’s capacity from four families.
It’s taken about six months for local contractor Eric Skaggs and his crew, along with volunteers from Cummins Inc., The Home Depot, Jackson Lodge 146 Free and Accepted Masons and others, to transform the nearly uninhabitable apartments into safe, quality residential living.
Each apartment has a living room, kitchen, bedroom and bathroom. In the past, families have had their own bedroom but shared common spaces with other residents.
One of the downstairs apartments was repurposed into an office for Anchor House’s program director, Susan Horton, and a computer lab for residents to search for jobs, check email, take online classes and create resumes.
Horton spent the morning with a clipboard in hand, checking items off her list to make sure every apartment was furnished properly.
“It’s wonderful to be able to provide families with these facilities,” she said. “It’s comparable to apartment living, so they feel more independent, and that’s our main goal, to get them to that stage of independence.”
Although she has been in the position only since mid-July, Horton said she is amazed and excited to see how much support Anchor House has.
“The community has come together on this, and it’s exciting for all of us,” she said.
Mitchell has lived at the family assistance center with his girlfriend and 8-month-old son for a while now. He said he was excited about moving into the new apartments because it meant more space, privacy and independence for himself and his family.
“I think this is awesome,” Mitchell said. “It gives us more privacy and will get us used to taking care of our own place.”
Having moved around a lot in his life, he said, it’s nice to have a place to call home.
Mitchell said that, by living at Anchor House, he and his girlfriend are getting back on their feet. That wouldn’t be possible without the encouragement and support of Anchor House executive director Deb Bedwell, other staff and volunteers, residents and people in the community who donate to keep the agency running.
“We help each other out,” Mitchell said. “It’s more like a family here.”
Bedwell said clients have more of a sense of ownership by living in the apartments.
“That’s important because they get to feel what it’s like to have their own place and live on their own,” she said.
The apartment project, which included the addition of a playground and a privacy fence encompassing all three buildings, was paid for mainly through a grant from the Cummins Foundation.
According to the sales disclosure form, the apartments were purchased from JCB for $72,000, and the renovation work to both buildings along with planned work to reconfigure the old building is about $500,000.
Bedwell said the agency hasn’t paid full price for a single thing so far because people and businesses have donated labor and materials, and the nonprofit agency has received discounts on purchases of furniture and other items.
There is still a need for some items to be donated, including towels and washcloths, sheets and slow cookers, Bedwell said.
The next phase will be interior renovations in the old building, including a new laundry room where the old program manager’s office was located; a large, open community room for public meetings, classes and events; and an expanded food pantry.
Skaggs said he hopes to start working on the old building by Jan. 1. It should be completed in about three months.
“I was excited two years ago when we started talking about this,” he said.
He also said it has been a great way for businesses to give back to the community.
“We’re really changing the way we look and the way we live,” Bedwell said. “This is going to give us better flow, especially on pantry days.”
Currently, the pantry is open to the community twice a week and serves 60 to 80 families per day, she said.
The area for the pantry will expand by 300 percent, she said. Also, parking and entry have changed from the east side of the facility to the back parking lot on the southwest side of the old building.
“Our pantry clients deserve a better place to get the food they need for their families,” she said.
But more support is needed to finish renovating the old building and to pay monthly utility expenses for all three buildings, she said.
And she is confident it will come.
“A year ago, I would never have dreamt we would have what we have now,” she said. “And it has only been possible through all those who have donated, volunteered and helped us out in any way. We are holding hands as a community to address the issue of poverty, homelessness and hunger.”
Bedwell said the reason Anchor House is successful is “because so many people believe in what we are doing.”
“No matter what you think of homeless people, it’s never a child’s fault,” she said. “And by helping the adults, we are helping the children. Every child deserves a place to call home, and that is what we do.”
More than 50 kids lived at Anchor House at some point last year. Overall, the shelter housed 101 people.
“And that’s just with four rooms,” Bedwell said.
She also said that even if a family doesn’t complete the program and leaves, they have still made positive changes in their lives.
“It may be getting their GED or getting their driver’s license,” she said. “Just because it’s small steps doesn’t mean it’s not success.”
Terry Byrns, Bob Cupp, Max Bedwell and Denver Gray were local Masons who rolled up their sleeves Wednesday to help get the work done.
The Masons have completed several projects at Anchor House in the past, including helping strip out the interiors of the old apartments and putting together the new playground equipment.
“I think it’s a good deal,” Byrns said of the new apartments. “It’s a nice facility here, but it wasn’t big enough.”
Gray agreed and said the expansion will be put to good use.
“It’s going to benefit a lot of people down the road,” he said.
Deb Bedwell said the residents are enthusiastic about the changes.
“They are thrilled and excited for themselves because it’s a safe environment for their kids,” she said.
She encouraged people to get involved with Anchor House by making a donation or volunteering.
“We have great support, but we need the support to continue, so please don’t forget us,” she said. “We are doing good work here. We’re helping families get back on their feet again, and if we make a change in someone’s life, we’ve changed their life for the better.”
[sc:pullout-title pullout-title=”At a glance” ][sc:pullout-text-begin]
For information on how to donate to Anchor House, call 812-522-9308.
You also can visit the shelter’s website at anchorhouseshelter.org or find it on Facebook by searching Anchor House.