Couple help give 'a sense of home' to shelter program

January 20, 1995|By Ivan Penn | Ivan Penn,Sun Staff Writer

Every night this week, a group of homeless men have found comfort in the warmth of a Laurel church that always has two familiar faces to greet them at the door.

For years, Thomas and Patricia Dols of Laurel have clothed or helped shelter several of the men during ice storms and snow. They've also fed them at least once a month throughout the year.

"They've really given a hundred percent," said 33-year-old Vincent Ott, who met the Dolses two years ago, when he became homeless. "They're very warm and caring. I've never forgotten them."

The Dolses coordinate the outreach program at Emmanuel United Methodist Church, off Route 216. This week, the church is housing about two dozen homeless men in its cafeteria-auditorium as part of a program called Winter Haven.

On a rotating basis, 12 Laurel-area organizations house homeless men for a week at a time, setting up shelter for them at a church, synagogue or private school each week through the end of March.

Like Mr. Ott, several of the men are recovering alcoholics and drug addicts trying to re-establish themselves in society.

Mr. Ott started a new job 2 1/2 weeks ago as a roofer and said he hopes he will soon find an apartment to rent. "Winter Haven is a place where a person can get some hope and get a second chance," he said. "It's not easy being here and homeless, but the way they've done it is to give us a sense of home, which is really nice."

In one half of the shelter, each man has a cot. In the other half -- cordoned off by chalkboards draped with sheets -- stand four tables for dinner and breakfast. For entertainment, a television with built-in videocassette recorder sits in one corner of the room on a table.

Homeless men are referred to Winter Haven through the Laurel Advocacy and Referral Service and Elizabeth House, which sponsor assistance programs. They usually arrive at the shelter about 7 p.m. each night and leave at 7 a.m.

This year, the Dolses are coordinating the more than 130 volunteers who supported the church's work with Winter Haven, including 11-year-old Claudia DeVuno.

"Since I've come to know Winter Haven, I've tried to make a bigger effort at helping people," Claudia said. "I think it's a fun experience."

The Dolses have helped organize the Winter Haven program at Emmanuel United since it began four years ago, but it is just one of several volunteer programs for the homeless that the couple direct or help.

Once a month, the couple feed the homeless at FISH of Laurel in Prince George's County. And Mr. Dols was one of the original board members who helped formed Howard County's Churches Concerned for the Homeless, which houses two families in long-term shelters. And the couple are fighting for the creation of a permanent shelter in Laurel City.

People they work with are impressed that the couple can volunteer so much in addition to their full-time federal government jobs. "I don't know how they find time to do all that they do and still have a life," said the Rev. Victoria J. Starnes, Emmanuel United's pastor. "They have managed to raise their children and be good grandparents, too."

The couple have six children, all from previous marriages. Four are hers, and two are his.

Some of the children have joined in the family's effort to help the homeless, by helping to feed them or just playing chess with them so that they will have something to do when they come to Winter Haven.

"I like hearing the stories the men tell," said Mrs. Dols' 17-year-old son, Charlie Klinck. "I like it a lot."

That's how his stepfather got hooked on helping the homeless.

Mr. Dols, 56, said he remembers talking to the old homeless men near his father's drugstore in his hometown, Minneapolis.

"I knew those people personally," Mr. Dols said. "Seeing and being with them, I was not afraid of that."

When he moved to Maryland at age 22, he brought those memories with him. And 10 years ago, he passed them on to his second wife, Patricia. "My attitude was that [homeless people] were lazy," Mrs. Dols said. "It's through these projects we've been involved with that I've learned that they're just down on their luck."

Mrs. Dols said she plans to quit her job as a program analyst with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to go to a seminary and become a minister.

"We enjoy people and being around people," Mrs. Dols said. "We have no intention of stopping."

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