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February 23, 2012
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Utah's Place opening pushed back to fall


By anyone's yardstick, 2011 was a difficult year for Hospitality House.

In the spring, the nomadic homeless shelter received word - just before it was scheduled to close escrow - that plans to move into a permanent space in a Grass Valley business park would have to be scuttled.

Then, after a new building was secured last fall, an internal shake-up prompted the mass resignation of the nonprofit organization's entire board of directors. And plans to have the permanent facility up and running by mid-May have now been pushed back to the end of September.

But the new board - headed up by Joanna Robinson, widow of the late Hospitality House co-founder and homeless advocate Bruce "Utah" Phillips - is "more solid than ever," said Executive Director Cindy Maple.

And Maple has pledged to do everything she can to provide shelter services year-round.

Hospitality House typically has closed between the end of April or May and mid-October, while keeping its drop-in center open for lunch, showers and social services.

"We thought we'd be in by this summer," Maple said. "That was really optimistic thinking. So we're trying to raise the money for operations and the building, and working with the faith communities right now to line (year-round services) up, for as many days a week as we can. I don't want to back down from that (pledge)."

Utah's Place, named after Phillips, is a 6,500-square-foot facility at 1262 Sutton Way in Grass Valley that will provide overnight sleeping quarters for as many as 54 guests - with 14 beds in a women's dorm, four in a family room and 36 in a men's dorm.

The building, formerly owned by the Veritas Church, will require approximately $250,000 in donated labor, materials and financing to complete structural work, Maple said. The renovations will include a commercial kitchen, as well as the revamping of the upstairs worship hall space into dormitories. The building also will provide space for counseling with social service workers, group meetings and life skills training.

A $1 million state grant was earmarked in 2010 to fund the project. The money is actually a 10-year forgivable deferred loan, Maple said; the nonprofit makes no payments on the loan, as long as the building is held for at least 10 years and continues to be used as a shelter. At the end of the 10 years, the loan will be forgiven, Maple said.

While Maple would not disclose the sale price of the building, she said that even after the purchase and payments for consultants, the organization still has about $300,000 left for renovation costs.

Fundraising is still vital, however.

"Our campaign is two-fold," Maple said. "We have an immediate need of $250,000 to complete the renovation project. A good portion of that will be donated by the contractors and other design employees - a lot of them are donating 50 percent of their work. The second part of that will be an endowment fund of $250,000, for building maintenance and just to sustain us for the next several years."

Donations have been flooding in, with the Nevada City School District donating a number of tables, and Briar Patch dropping off an oven.

Architect Robert Wallis, who has donated half his fee, has done "an amazing job of utilizing the space," Maple said. "We're using every inch, even with this big of a building - and we could use more."

Wallis is finishing up the design work, plan checks are set to be done by the end of the month and then building permits must be pulled. The project will then go out to bid and Maple hopes to have a contractor selected by the end of March.

"All nonprofits go through cycles -and we're in a huge growth period," Maple said, adding that besides the new building, the organization will soon debut a new website.

"Joanna often reminds me that Utah always said, 'Do the work and the money will come,'" Maple said. "We've gotten most of it - we're 90 percent of the way there. We just have to get over that hump at the top."

Maple said new board members have "soldiered on" since the shake-up, thanks to Robinson's strong leadership. There are now eight members on the board of directors, including longtime volunteer Dr. Frank Lang.

Board member Tammie Hamilton has been a volunteer at Hospitality House for almost four years, and said the organization attracted her attention because it offers "not just a meal and a bed - they truly work to get them into permanent housing and jobs, to get the services they need - they really strive to get them out of homelessness."

"We're re-building," said Doug Lautzenhiser, another founding member who has returned to the board. "There needed to be a significant step up in fundraising."

Lautzenhiser said the board currently is seeking a treasurer, preferably with nonprofit experience.

Robinson said Maple is the one who deserves a lot of credit.

"The current board couldn't be happier with what Cindy does," Robinson said. "She just brought in a $132,000 federal grant - she created a program at Hospitality House that is utterly remarkable. Volunteers are astonished at how well it works. It's beautifully organized and it really delivers the goods to the people in our community that need help. A great deal of that is Cindy, because she created the program and she watches it like a hawk to make sure it's going the way it should."

Maple and Robinson also highlighted the work of volunteers who keep the shelter and its programs going.

"Some of the numbers are pretty astounding," Maple said. "On average, people donate 1,500-plus volunteer hours a month. We served 26,500 meals last year - that's a pretty incredible gift, all donated and prepped by volunteers."

Even though it's been a long road to establish a permanent shelter facility, Robinson wouldn't have it any other way.

"The reason we're so ensconced in the community is because we have been a nomadic shelter," she said. "(This) united the faith community for a common goal ... Hospitality House is a wonderful opportunity for people to get real, around kindness and goodness and altruism. It's very beautiful and powerful."

To contact Staff Writer Liz Kellar, e-mail lkellar@theunion.com or call (530) 477-4229.


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The Union Updated Feb 24, 2012 11:30AM Published Feb 23, 2012 09:26PM Copyright 2012 The Union. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.