Volunteers renovate former Lebanon motel rooms into shelter for homeless families

Lebanon High School students earn the importance of helping others, giving back to the community

Giving back to the community and helping out families in need is a goal for Family Promise of Warren County as the organization renovates a former Lebanon motel to serve as a a shelter for homeless families.

For the past year, staff at Family Promise, formerly known as Interfaith Hospitality Network, have been working with nonprofit organizations and churches on the former Shaker Inn motel to convert it into a homeless shelter for families, to help them get through a difficult time and keep those families together. Some shelters only accept individuals and sometimes cannot accommodate children.

The Lebanon High School Service Experience class took on the project of renovating one of the motel rooms at the former Shaker Inn at 600 Cincinnati Ave. in Lebanon.

Family Promise purchased the building in early 2022 and received the appropriate zoning approvals from the city of Lebanon. Linda Rabolt, Family Promise’s executive director, said there are 14 rooms for families and 12 rooms have already been completed by churches from around Warren County as well as residents from a neighborhood near the new shelter. Some of the local churches that provide dinner for the homeless on a rotational basis signed up to renovate a room.

Rabolt said the groups who sponsor a room are asked to brighten the rooms and make them welcoming. She said Family Promise has received donations, grants, materials and in-kind services from area companies to make this project happen. Rabolt said they have received grants from the Cincinnati Foundation and another grant from IKEA West Chester for $18,000 for furniture and other items.

“It has to be a collaborative effort because you can’t do this stuff by yourself,” Rabolt said.

The new homeless family shelter is expected to be operational in February, Rabolt said. The former motel also rooms for the organization for training and meetings to help those people experiencing homelessness learn skills to get them back on track. There is also a laundry room, kitchen, dining area and a place for children to do homework or play.

Libby Turpin, who taught the elective Service Experience class since 2015 at Lebanon High School, said she has worked with Rabolt for several years. Each semester, about 12 students select an organization or focus they are interested in. Turpin said this semester’s focus was renovating a room and have done before Christmas. Over the past several years, the Service Experience class have worked on projects with more than 30 area nonprofit organzations.

“The students worked on small group projects to benefit the community,” Turpin said. “It takes our class to a new level and it becomes a developed affinity as they finish the community service requirement for graduation. They learn the importance of giving back.”

She said the group also unload trucks of food from Shared Harvest at the Lebanon Food Pantry on Mondays.

Turpin said the students received “a very generous donation of paint and flooring from local contractor SpencerBuilt, which cut their cost dramatically. And a group of women from the community offered to purchase bedding, towels and other items as needed.”

Esmeralda Cabrera, a Lebanon senior, said a lot of students were talking about the class last year which piqued her interest in community service.

“Service Experience (class) is a chance to help the community while being in school,” Cabrera said. “I’ve always been interested in community service and I’ve learned a lot about people having needs, whether seen or unseen.”

She said, “people in need are all around and could be someone you know.”

Another senior, Vivian Doak, said she chose to be in the class because she wanted to give back to the community.

“I have a good life and I wanted to get with other people doing the same thing,” Doak said, “I’ve seen the reaction on peoples faces and I didn’t realize how this work impacts others. It was surprising because I did not think it would impact me as much as it did.”

Jami Madewell of Covenant Presbyterian Church in Springboro said she and a group of five fellow church members redid a room that took them 120 hours over a period of months. She said the church volunteers with Family Promise by periodically cooking a meal for the homeless. Family Promise contacted the church about sponsoring a room.

Madewell said the church group pulled the carpeting out and installed flooring as well as painted the concrete walls and built-in baseboard.

“It was not a simple job,” she said. “As we worked, other problems cropped up. A fan in the ceiling had to be replaced because there was a short.”

Madewell said the group put in a bunk bed for children in addition to a bed for parents. They kept an original night stand and provided a dresser and a small linen cabinet as part of sprucing up the room.

“People were really enthusiastic about the project,” she said. “It was a great renovation project.”

Kathy Maehler of Open Table Church in Mason said they were looking for a project in addition to preparing a meal for the homeless a few times a year for the homeless.

Maehler said the renovation project “seemed like something up our alley.”

By the end of August, the group chose a room, and came up with a design for the room to make it home-like.

She said one church member had flooring left over from a lake house project he’d completed.

“We tore out the carpeting and did some painting on the last Sunday of the month,” Maehler said. “We also learned from other groups working on rooms and went on the Amazon gift registry and received $800 in items for the room.”

An open house is planned from 9 a.m. to noon on Jan. 16, Rabolt said.

In addition, Family Promise of Warren County is also conducting a capital campaign to raise $1.7 million. Rabolt said the campaign is halfway in reaching its goal.

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