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Helping Hands Founder Gathers Group to Tackle Homelessness
By Rebecca Dravis, iBerkshires Staff
02:21AM / Tuesday, October 15, 2019
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The Helping Hands Facebook page, created after fires in North Adams early in 2019, has birthed a committee to focus on the issue of homelessness in the Northern Berkshire community.


Flood House in North Adams has been the temporary home the Louison House transitional living facility, but Louison officials are looking forward to returning to their original location in Adams within the next few months.

NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — When Marilyn Honig was a child, her family suffered a devastating house fire that left four members of her family dead and the rest of them homeless.

That's why when a spate of house fires tore across North Adams at the beginning of the year, Honig immediately knew she wanted to do something to help.
 
"My heart really went out to the fire victims. I remember that feeling of being really scared," said Honig, a Stamford, Vt., resident who now is grown with children of her own and is in a position to help people in need like she was helped  after her fire. "I want to pay it forward."
 
So when she saw so many community members offering on various social media channels and website to donate clothing and household goods to the victims with no clear coordination, she knew she had found her calling: She started the North Adams Helping Hands Facebook page to try to connect and coordinate donation efforts to those in need.
 
What started out small has now grown into page with more than 800 people who regularly post extra items they would like to donate, items they are in need of and fundraisers to support community efforts. Posts have included donations of formal dresses for girls who can't afford one, household items for someone transitioning from a shelter into an apartment, and baby food and clothing for a woman and child fleeing a domestic violence situation -- well beyond the original scope of the page.
 
"It's just a community resource," Honig said.
 
And now Honig and a group of other regular contributors on the page are targeting one specific need in the community: resources for those without housing stability. That grew from a post on the page in which someone was searching for a tent to provide shelter while they were without permanent housing.
 
"People were contacting me saying, 'What should I do?'" Honig said, and she came to a realization about her community that she hadn't previously been well aware of. "This is a problem."
 
After reaching out to Kathy Keeser, director of the area's homeless shelter, Louison House, Honig and a group of contributors -- mostly strangers to her -- started to meet in what they are calling "Helping Hands for the Homeless." This group has met a few times and, in addition to continuing to connect people in need with those who can help on the Facebook page, is planning a couple fundraisers to benefit Louison House. One is going on right now: the raffle of a big-screen television. Another effort, a night of music, is tentatively planned for Nov. 16 at the Readsboro (Vt.) Inn. Information on both of those can be found on the Facebook page.
 
At one recent meeting of the group, Honig and Keeser were joined by several other women who brought their time and talents to the table to discuss next steps for those fundraisers and what they hope to accomplish through this initiative.
 
Keeser said she was appreciative of this new community effort, particularly since Louison House itself was displaced by a fire that severely damaged its original home in Adams, leaving it to its temporary location in Flood House on Church Street in North Adams. As Louison House prepares to move back to Adams over the next few months, Keeser said community efforts will be key once again.
 
"Community efforts saved us [after the fire]," she said, adding that opportunities to help with the transition back to Adams range from volunteering time to help clean out the basement to donating money to help furnish the new home, perhaps in the form of groups "adopting" a room to decorate.
 
Honig vowed to help Louison House and other endeavors that target homeless and housing insecurity in whatever ways she and her new committee can.
 
"We can't open a new shelter today," she said. "But we can help you guys."
 
In addition to Honig, the committee includes Beth Schmehl, who recently founded "5 Cents at a Time," through which she collects returnable bottles and cans and turns those nickel deposits into gift cards for people in the community who are in need.
 
"I'm just doing the best I can to help the best I can," Schmehl said, who said the idea came out of brainstorming what else besides money she could ask people for. "Bottles and cans and water bottles. People don't mind giving them up. They don't want to deal with them."
 
Another member of the committee is Kathy Brown Danis, the grandmother of Noah Brown, the little boy killed in 2015 when he was struck by a car. Since his death, she has created the Noah Williams Brown Scholarship Fund, finding purpose and direction growing out of her personal tragedy. Danis said working on the scholarship and joining the Facebook page to help other people as well all let to her want to help Honig with this endeavor.
 
"This is where I feel like I"m being led, right into your arms," she told Honig at the committee meeting.
 
And that kind of personal commitment to the cause is what is driving Honig to lead this charge. After the fire in which she lost her mother and three of her siblings, she was left with a brother and a sister; her sister subsequently got sick, and Honig said she made a promise to her on her deathbed.
 
"I"m going to make you proud," she said, "I'm so glad I found so many people to help."
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