Home for the homeless

Donation of a former church in Webster County will provide shelter for those who need it

-Messenger photo by Chad Thompson
Ashley Vaala, executive director of the Lotus Community Project, holds her son, Deklan Vaala, 3, inside the former St. John’s Lutheran Church in Vincent Tuesday afteroon. The space will be used as a shelter for homeless women and their children.

Homeless women and children in the greater Fort Dodge area will soon have another place they can go to for shelter and assistance.

That place is Lotus Community Project, a shelter that will be located in the former St. John’s Lutheran Church along 170th Street in rural Webster County.

The property, northeast of Fort Dodge, is being donated by Iowa District West, which took ownership of the church when it closed in August of 2017.

“We were asked that it be repurposed for a good use or have it torn down,” the Rev. Steve Turner, of Iowa District West, said. “We can’t think of a better way to repurpose this structure than to use it for a homeless shelter for women.”

A dedication was held at the former church Tuesday afternoon. About 20 people attended.

-Messenger photo by Chad Thompson
The former St. John’s Lutheran Church, located in Vincent, is being donated by Iowa Disrict West to the Lotus Community Project, a homeless shelter for women and children. The shelter will serve six counties in the greater Fort Dodge area.

Ashley Vaala is the executive director for Lotus Community Project. She shared her vision with The Messenger in January.

She wants to help women and children who otherwise would have limited options.

Vaala said the shelter won’t be ready to serve the homeless until December.

About $105,000 in renovations will be completed by then, she said.

The shelter will be open to any woman, Vaala said.

-Messenger photo by Chad Thompson
Ashley Vaala, executive director of Lotus Community Project, at left, holding her son, Deklan Vaala, 3, visit with the Rev. Steve Turner of Iowa District West during a property dedication at the former St. John’s Lutheran Church in Vincent Tuesday afternoon. Iowa District West is donating the church to Lotus, which will be used as a shelter for homeless women and their children.

But they will have to meet certain criteria.

“They can’t be a sex offender, they have to be from the six-county area, and we have to make sure we’re not duplicating other services,” she said.

Lotus differs from other services in the area. The Beacon of Hope Men’s shelter om downtown Fort Dodge does not accept women and some women do not fit the criteria for the Domestic/ Sexual Assault Outreach Center shelter in Fort Dodge.

Lotus will serve the counties Webster, Hamilton, Humboldt, Wright, Calhoun and Pocahontas.

The sanctuary will provide temporary living space.

Vaala said there will be a potential eight rooms available.

“When people come in we will have an intensive intake process,” she said. “We will look at financial security, natural supports, and health status. Maybe help apply for disability. Learn their history and coordinate a unique plan based on their structure. We will have support staff help them execute their plan.”

Vaala said helping people find financial stability will be a top priority.

She said Lotus may help them find employment or education opportunities.

“We need to help people secure financing or they are not going to be successful,” she said.

Lotus received its 501(c)3 designation in July, which secured its status as a nonprofit organization.

Janice Link, of Fort Dodge, is a Lotus board member. She and her husband, Al Link, are legal guardians to Wolfie Dillingham, a man with special needs.

Dillingham recently donated $500 of his own money to help Lotus.

“He said, ‘I remember when I was cold and hungry,'” Janice Link said. “Maybe this will help someone not feel that way.”

For more information or to donate, find Lotus Community Project on Facebook or contact Ashley Vaala at 319-429-4955 or by email avaala@lotuscommunityproject.org.

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