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A Home for the Holidays

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By April Wright, Reporter

For some staying at the homeless shelter in Galax, this will be the best Christmas they've had in a long time.

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Deborah Payne, director of the Hostel of the Good Shepherd, is making an effort to see that these residents have a blessed Christmas — and she is asking the community to help out.

Nestled into a residential area in Galax, the hostel on West Center Street is starting to feel more like home for the residents, said Payne. Along with hope, that's the feeling she wants to give them this Christmas — a sense of belonging.

 Ten people, including three children, will be staying at the homeless shelter this holiday season. But even though many of the residents have just met for the first time in the past few days, they have become like family.

The hostel is filled with words of encouragement as residents share their stories — and the responsibility of chores. Residents have also decorated the shelter's new Christmas tree, hung their own stockings and wrapped the front porch columns with lights, garland and bows.

The children built a snowman during the first snowfall.

“The kids are excited,” said Payne, as she thinks of new Christmas activities for the residents. “They're looking forward to Christmas, and their friends can come join them.”

Payne has compiled a wish list of items residents would like this Christmas and has planned a Santa visit for the children ages 7, 10 and 12. She has also scheduled to take them to a play at Coulson Church, where her husband is pastor.

Payne has sent letters to churches, businesses and organizations asking for their help this Christmas, and she requests help from the community to provide activities for residents.

“Some that have just moved out of the hostel are coming back to celebrate Christmas here because some of them don't have family,” said Payne.

Just being able to find Hostel of the Good Shepherd has been a blessing for resident Terry Hash.

Even though Hash has lived in Galax for 20 years, he didn't know it existed until an acquaintance told him two weeks ago. Hash, who has been homeless since October when he lost his job at a garage, had been living for two weeks in the cold, out in the woods of Galax in a makeshift tent, built with two tarps and sticks.

“Being at the hostel, I believe this is going to be the best Christmas I've had in a couple of years,” said Hash. Being surrounded by friends at the hostel helps takes away the pain of not being able to see his children, who live with their mom.

Cathy Brown came to the hostel after moving from one abusive situation to the next.

“I'm excited about spending Christmas here. I feel like I'm part of a family,” said Brown, as she decorates the Christmas tree. “From my own experience, this is way better than being on the streets.”

Donations this year seems to be bigger than last, said Payne. “It is neat how people are responding, and the residents are very appreciative. Even when people are struggling,  they're willing to share. It's building hope.”

Payne said a church in Mount Airy, N.C., plans to donate one item from everyone's wish list; Laurel Elementary, Laurel Fork Clinic and a local Cub Scout troop have held supply drives; and other local churches have pitched in.

One woman donated furniture and money, telling Payne to use the funds for a steak dinner at Applebee's.

“Some of the residents have never even been to Applebee's, so that's what we're going to do,” said Payne.

Residents will have Christmas dinner at Applebee's and unwrap presents on Christmas.

Looking beyond Christmas, Hash is hopeful. He is working on getting his GED.

The Hostel of the Good Shepherd assists residents in becoming independent, helps them find jobs and a permanent residence, gain financial assistance and further their education if needed. It helps residents get back on their feet.

“Our mission is that we help residents help themselves,” said Payne. “We won't give it to them, but we'll show them how to get it.”

So  many success stories have came out of staying at the hostel, said Payne. Since January, the hostel has helped provide shelter and other services for many men, women and children.

Jo, a young woman who came off the streets of New York, is working on getting her GED. She just started a new job and is now living with a friend in an apartment in the area.

Brian and Renee, a couple who moved here from Maryland, have completed parenting classes, are preparing for a new baby to arrive in the upcoming months and are now settled in a new apartment nearby.

Matt, who came to the hostel after the mobile home lot he lived in shut down, has had his truck repaired and has relocated to another mobile home park in Galax.

The hostel has had as many as 15 residents — the maximum allowed — stay at one time in recent weeks.

“We have had veterans, families, single men and single women,” said Payne. “Some have lived on the street, some have left abusive situations, some have lost their homes due to eviction, some have lost their jobs and other have had medical conditions that left them without a place to live.”

Residents are allowed to stay up to six months, but the average stay is 30 to 90 days.

“The need is not just at Christmas. It's year-round,” said Payne.