Metro-East Living

Reunion dinner benefits Holy Angels Shelter in East St. Louis

Kyeshia Perry isn’t sure where she would be now if not for Holy Angels Shelter in East St. Louis.

“I know they were a big help to me,” said the 30-year-old single mother of three. “They still help me when I need things. They have been helping me a lot.”

When life got tough a couple years ago and Kyeshia had nowhere to go, she contacted a lot of shelters.

“I called them all. They gave me a hard time.”

She remembered Holy Angels had helped her with rent. The shelter came through again.

“They gave me and the kids a place to stay at the shelter for a couple months. Then I left town. When I came back, Paulyn (Snyder, social worker and co-director at Holy Angels) opened her arms to me once again. Now, I am in a new place.”

Holy Angels helped her with rent and furniture for a three-bedroom apartment. Kyeshia has a housekeeping job at a hotel.

“Things are going pretty good,” she said. “Talking to Paulyn helped me to get a lot going. I wasn’t pushing myself. She helped build me up a little bit better. I don’t know where I’d be if not for her.

“Today she still helps me if I have problems and need someone to talk to. Even though I am out of the shelter, they still have my back.”

Holy Angels relies on the generous folks who have the shelter’s back.

A fundraiser Saturday night at Fischer’s Restaurant in Belleville will celebrate the 30th anniversary of Holy Angel Shelter, honoring its founders — Joe Hubbard, Gerry Hasenstab, Patricia Lewis and Paulyn Snyder. Holy Angels opened its doors in January 1985 when the first family was received from the emergency room of St. Mary’s Hospital in East St. Louis. The 24-hour, transitional shelter for women, women with children and intact families is home to more than 200 persons each year.

“Because the shelter is housed in the convent of the now-closed Holy Angels Parish, we are also calling this a reunion of the churches of East St. Louis, inviting back any people who attended church, lived or working in the city,” said Judy Phillips, of the Office of Development, Catholic Diocese of Belleville. “At one time, there were 15 Catholic churches in the city. Today, there is only one, but many people from those churches, the city, Assumption and St. Teresa high schools still have reunions, remembering their hometown.”

Speakers at the fundraiser include Judge Andy Gleeson and the Rev. Tom Singer, OMI, who both grew up in East St. Louis. They will share memories of their younger days. Retired Judge Milton Wharton will be on hand to give out awards.

Proceeeds will benefit Holy Angels Shelter which has a wish list that includes 42 new windows, 12 dining room chairs, three double mattresses, 12 single mattresses and a steel picnic table.

“Holy Angels does have some state funding through grants,” said Judy, “but over half of its operating expenses is through contributions. There are a lot of individual donors. We’re always looking for volunteers, donors, even school supplies. The idea is to get new people who haven’t heard of Holy Angels before.”

Holy Angel residents stay an average of six to nine weeks.

“They stay long enough that the staff at Holy Angels is able to move them into permanent housing and help them find employment,” said Judy. “Holy Angels does a good job of getting them in touch with the right people. It has a lot of resources. Holy Angels networks with other agencies to get them on the right track.”

Then, they go into an after-care program with services address housing, education, health, child care, employment issues that may be challenges as the family starts over.

“It helps us not to have so much recidivism,” said Paulyn. “The biggest thing for them is becoming independent. … They have to claim their own victories.”

Wednesday morning, social worker Paulyn was getting a new resident settled in her room, entertaining a resident’s two preschoolers and waiting for Kyeshia to come by and pick of clothes for her children.

What keeps Paulyn on the job?

“The people. It’s very, very rewarding to work with the people and keep seeing them improve. When people succeed like Kyeshia, it’s not necessarily because of what we do. We are just the cheering squad. They step in with low self-esteem. A lot of people have been giving them bad vibes. We help them realize who they really are. We see beautiful people emerge. That’s what keeps us going.”

At a glance

Here’s what you need to know about the East St. Louis reunion and Holy Angels fundraiser

  • When: Saturday; 5-7 p.m. cocktails; dinner and program shortly after.
  • Where: Fischer’s Restaurant, Belleville
  • Cost: $40
  • To attend: Call Catholic Urban Programs at 398-5616.
  • To make a donation: Send a check to Holy Angels Shelter, 1410 N. 37th St., East St. Louis, IL 62204, or to Catholic Urban Programs, an umbrella agency that includes Holy Angels, P.O. Box 3310, East St. Louis, IL, 62203.
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