WILKES-BARRE — Ruth’s Place Women’s Shelter and Volunteers of America are merging to improve services to women experiencing homelessness in Luzerne County.
Kristen Topolski, director of Ruth’s Place, said the move will be completed this month and will give shelter staff the freedom to focus on services while drawing on the administrative expertise of Volunteers of America.
“The shelter has expanded so rapidly that we need an organization with greater capacity to handle it all,” said Ruth’s Place Board of Directors President Peggy Rapp. “Volunteers of America has a tried and true record of helping those experiencing poverty, providing housing and managing an outstanding non-profit. They are the perfect partners to help Ruth’s Place continue to grow.”
Topolski said nothing about Ruth’s Place will change as a result of the merger. The shelter will retain the same staff, provide the same services and stay in the same location in the North End of Wilkes-Barre.
“We want our supporters and the community to know that our program will be exactly the same, and we will need everyone’s support to keep this going,” Topolski said.
Topolski said the funding Ruth’s Place has will remain designated to the shelter. She said continued support is critical.
“This is the responsible thing to do,” Topolski said. “By affiliating with VOA, we will have more security/stability for the shelter itself.”
Topolski said “times were getting difficult” because of the demand for funding, but she said Ruth’s Place was not in danger of closing.
“But something needed to be done,” she said.
Topolski said Ruth’s Place cared for 292 women in 2012, and that number will be surpassed in 2013.
“Consistently since the beginning of the year we have been at capacity (21 women) every night,” she said.
Topolski said the annual walk-a-thon is set for Nov. 3 on Public Square. There is no entry fee, but sponsorships are critical to the shelter’s financial situation, she said.
Alan Garner, CEO of VOA of Pennsylvania in Harrisburg, said the organization was honored to have been asked to merge with Ruth’s Place.
“The depth and array of services provided by the shelter impressed us deeply, as well as its success in placing women into permanent housing,” Garner said.
He noted 96 percent of women at the shelter move on to find safe housing.
As part of the merger, Ruth’s Place will become a program of VOA, along with other projects such as Manna House, Dial-a-Driver, Hartman Home and the Thrift Store on South Main Street. The board of directors of Ruth’s Place will stay together as an advisory group to continue fundraising and to give input on the shelter’s programs and finances.
“Ruth’s Place has always relied on the generosity of individuals and businesses who believe in treating women with dignity and respect,” said Ruth’s Place Vice President Bill Bolan. “We might be merging with a larger organization, but this doesn’t mean there’s suddenly extra funds available. The generosity of the community is essential to keep our doors open.”
Bolan explained that volunteers will continue to be a vital part of the shelter, and that gifts of goods and money will still be accepted directly by the shelter.
Ruth’s Place has served 1,513 women since its inception in 2003, representing some 31,739 nights of lodging, Topolski said.
Begun as an overnight winter shelter at the First United Methodist Church, Ruth’s Place eventually expanded to become a year-round operation in 2007. The original staff was made up completely of volunteers and was run by Julie Benjamin and her husband, the Rev. Keith Benjamin.
After the closing of the First United Methodist Church in 2008, the shelter moved to the Salvation Army and then the First Baptist Church before finding a permanent home in the North End in 2009.
Ruth’s Place is now operating 24-hours a day and provides intensive case management to help women find permanent housing, jobs, financial assistance, and counseling. Its success led the Ruth’s Place board of directors to seek an organization with greater fiscal and administrative capacity.