'A home away from homelessness'

Glen Burnie's Emmaus Center provides food, counseling, prayer and fellowship

August 03, 2008|By JASMINE JERNBERG

People in jeans and T-shirts, some carrying backpacks, begin entering the glass doorway of the strip mall compartment at 7 a.m. and starting a pot of coffee or helping themselves to cereal from the pantry.

People such as Camelia Sherrick, who has lived on the streets since February. She said she spends her nights hungry and scared, with no place to rest that doesn't risk harassment or a beating. But as the sun rises, Sherrick is also greeted with the prospect of a home.

Sherrick and others like her have recently found sanctuary and hope, if only for part of the day, at the Emmaus Center, "a home away from homelessness" that opened in May on Central Avenue in Glen Burnie. It has quickly grown to welcome 20 to 30 poor or homeless people between 9 a.m. and 3 p.m. each day. Sherrick says she has quickly become "part of the family" at Emmaus and volunteers there as a cook and in-house photographer.

Established by a husband-wife team, the Rev. Ed Jansen and Amma Trish Gaffney, the Emmaus Center has a threefold ministry. It offers professional counseling for problems that include anger, substance abuse and depression. It provides sustenance for the homeless with a food pantry. And there is the church, with an 8 a.m. prayer on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, and Mass on Sundays.

Until February, Jansen and Gaffney lived in Stuart, Fla., where she was a licensed social worker and he was a pastoral counselor, each with a private practice. They were also among the clergy of the Apostolic Catholic Church in Tampa, Fla.

But after their home was rocked by four hurricanes in two years, the couple decided to move. They live in Gaffney's childhood home in Severna Park.

Upon moving to Maryland, the couple had the idea of providing professional counseling for people without insurance or other means of payment, a concept that has since expanded.

"I believe God has given us this vision," Jansen says.

The Emmaus Center works closely with the Arundel House of Hope, an assistance program for the county's homeless. Jansen seeks to supplement, not duplicate, the efforts of Arundel House, which provides meals, a dayroom and help in obtaining identification, jobs or housing, he says. He says he provides emotional and spiritual support.

"There's a real reciprocal relationship," Jansen says. "Our focus is God-centered."

Mario Berninzoni, executive director of the Arundel House of Hope, says he has had a good working association with Emmaus.

"We try to supply people with the basic needs, but if there is someone who needs some additional support, we try to refer them to their center," he says.

The county Department of Social Services estimated that 467 people in Anne Arundel County were homeless last year, though department director Marci Kennai said that number does not reflect those who do not seek public assistance. Many at the Emmaus Center worry that the faltering economy is adding to that number.

Terry Gallagher, a social worker and lifelong Glen Burnie resident, says he only recently noticed the homeless people who slept on the benches along the bike trail or in tent cities outside light-rail stations.

Gallagher said he volunteers with the Emmaus Center to break down the walls many of the poor have built around themselves. He says the key is to "remind folks that they are something" and to treat them not as what they are but as what they can be.

Those who have been helped at Emmaus praise it.

From her experience, Sherrick says, it seems many faith-based programs just want to raise money. She says the people at Emmaus really care and take the time to talk with people and help them change their lives.

Jansen, most often called "Father Ed," is proud to offer a place where people who have nothing can come and feel at home and do things most of us take for granted - things a simple as getting a soda from the refrigerator. And though he works seven days a week without pay, he says he is also bettered by the Emmaus Center.

"I learn so much from the people I serve," he says.

The goal of the Emmaus Center is also to provide the means to change, providing opportunities to make money and volunteer to help others.

"We honor and respect them and say, 'You can give something back,' " Jansen says. "They're helping one another, and it's just incredible. I'm blown away by their generosity."

Rob, who declined to give his last name, said he grew up in Severn and became homeless after serving seven months in jail. He now has a job installing swimming pools and says the food he receives at the center allows him to save for a new apartment. Rob also volunteers at the center and looks for ways for the homeless to give back, such as cleaning up local parks.

"Instead of hindering the public or being a nuisance, we can help out the community," he says.

The Emmaus Center also has volunteers distribute fliers advertising workers for odd jobs in the neighborhood. Jansen says there are a lot of smart and capable people who just need the chance to help themselves.

"People who don't understand homelessness think they're all bums who don't want to work. That couldn't be farther from the truth," says George Depew, another regular visitor to the center.The center does not accept insurance and does not turn anyone away. The U.S. Department of Agriculture and the county donate some food, but the majority of what is provided at Emmaus is privately funded. Jansen says he and other volunteers at the center are "continually looking for people to grasp the vision and help support it."

"I believe that any Christian - or anyone, for that matter - can help," Jansen says. "We want to welcome everyone who has a servant's heart."

jasmine.jernberg@baltsun.com

For more information about the Emmaus Center, call 410-766-7729 visit www.emmauscenter.net.

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