Awareness tops shelter wish list the rest comes later

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, December 9, 2003

NATCHEZ &045; Volunteers are needed. Money is needed. Supplies are needed.

But at the top of Gail Healy’s wish list for the Sunshine Shelter is something intangible: awareness.

Healy, director of the emergency shelter for abused and neglected children, simply wants the community and the region to know it exists &045; and why.

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&uot;The wish list is awareness &045; and acceptance that this condition exists,&uot; Healy said. &uot;Abuse and neglect are a fact of our society. People need to be aware and conscious that it exists, and support ways to prevent it.&uot;

The Sunshine Shelter is, in fact, one of the ways to respond to the need. Infants and children up to 14 years of age can stay at the shelter up to three months. They go there when no other safe place is available to them.

And what they find, Healy said, can make all the difference in the world. Two current residents, toddlers, are &uot;different children&uot; now then when they first arrived.

&uot;They have made so many strides,&uot; Healy said.

Because children can only stay three months &045; and it is hard to find a safe home after that &045; the community also needs foster families, Healy said. She encouraged anyone interested to sign up through the Department of Human Services.

Once people are aware of the four-year-old Sunshine Shelter and its services and needs, Healy believes the community will respond.

&uot;The project sort of defines the purpose and the need, and the community comes in and fills those needs,&uot; she said.

Among the greatest needs for the shelter are volunteers, monetary donations, supplies and some big-ticket items such as a television, DVD player and a small couch for the playroom.

Volunteers are needed especially on weekends, to assist with field trips.

&uot;The weekends are hard,&uot; Healy said. &uot;The children get restless, and they want to get out and see different people.&uot;

Arranging for tickets to events such as the balloon race or Jim Bowie Festival.

&uot;(The children) enjoy the attention,&uot; Healy said.

And an outing doesn’t even have to be a big production, Healy said &045; &uot;maybe just a walk down to the bluff or to the bridge.&uot;

Volunteers can also help tutor &045; help with math and reading is the biggest need &045; or read to the younger children, Healy said.

Monetary donations always help, and supplies such as personal care items, linens for bunk beds and towels are always welcome.