The Shelter on Downey Street offers hope, happiness and health to young people in need

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Radford volunteer supports interfaith student shelter with Leading Lights donation

Heather Bell

RADFORD – After the 2006 massacre at Virginia Tech, Dick Arnold saw the goodness of people, coming out to campus and the surrounding community to volunteer their time and emotional support.

In a recent interview, Arnold said he wanted a way to honor those people who don’t usually find themselves in the limelight.

“I saw all of these people, in the wake of this tragedy, spending days, weeks on campus and giving of themselves,” said Arnold in an inspiring recent discussion at The Shelter, an interfaith student homeless shelter and spiritual gathering place on Downey Street in Radford. “I wanted to find a way to recognize them.”

Arnold created the New River Valley Leading Lights organization to do just that. New River Valley Leading Lights’ vision “is to strengthen our community by inspiring a culture of volunteerism.”

“Our mission is to acknowledge and honor volunteers across the NRV who are making community-changing impacts, culminating in an annual celebratory banquet,” according to the organizations website. “Our core values [are] integrity, excellence, community, and volunteerism. We believe in the value of volunteering and seek to enhance the culture of volunteerism through our annual banquet and other relevant activities. As a partner, we will complement the work of other organizations in the community. We will preserve and honor the rich stories of volunteerism in our community. And in the spirit of integrity and excellence, we will be good stewards and transparent about our operations.”

“We have honored more than 600 people over the years and presented 70 people with our Distinguished Recipient award, which includes a donation to the charity of their choice.”

This year’s Distinguished Recipient in Radford is Janiele Hamden, who was presented with the award at Leading Lights’ award at its annual banquet in April. Hamden chose The Shelter – described as an “intentional student faith community” by its founder, in-house minister and all around life guru, Robert Morris – is located on Downey Street and offers college students in need a place to stay, meals to eat, and a good dose of love to guide them through difficult times in life.

Morris, who shows an authenticity that surrounds him like a soothing aura, has helped many young people since he opened the doors of the big old home, generously donated to the effort by First Baptist Church across and down the street a bit. Reverend Kent Taylor, who helps facilitate The Shelter, says the church has been pleased with the results and is heartened by the help he sees the effort give to those in need. Hamden says when she was told Leading Lights would give $500 to the charity of hr choice, that choice was easy.

“My motto is church in the streets and this is church in the streets to me,” Hamden said. “Working with Robert is so awesome, an unbelievable experience. He is the most caring, non-judgemental person, doing so much good.”

Morris, who get a lot of assistance and emotional support from his wife, Sarah, said he always wishes he could do more but is thankful for what he and The Shelter can offer.

“At any given time, 35 percent of college students across the country can find themselves homeless,” he said. “The answer is always yes when someone asks for our help.We can’t always help everyone with everything, but we can always do something.”

The Shelter is “a mission center and Christian community for students and young adults dedicated to helping hurting and hungry people find faith, hope, and dignity alongside each other,” according to its website. “We throw parties, tell stories, find hope, and practice the ways of Jesus as best we can.”

“The Shelter is a college ministry with an on-site residential option,” the description continues. “Whether you live here or just hang out here, The Shelter will respect you and encourage you on your life’s journey through friendship, community, spiritual nurture, and service to others. Persons of faith – and of no faith – find safe harbor and common ground through conversation, communal meals, discussion groups and mutual respect.”

Both Leading Lights and The Shelter are dependent on donations from the community to keep their respective missions alive.

Financial donations to The Shelter are accepted through First Baptist Church. Donations of food, cleaning supplies and other items are accepted at the house, at 1205 Downey St.

Donations to Leading Lights can be made to: German Club Alumni Foundation, Memo line: NRV Leading Lights, 711 Southgate Drive, Blacksburg, VA 24060.