‘Sleep Out’ will raise money to battle homelessness

MIDDLEBURY — Hale and hearty supporters of John Graham Housing and Services (JGHS) will keep their annual camp-out appointment at the Otter Creek Falls in Dec. 1, a frigid outing that will raise money to battle homelessness while giving participants a taste of the hardship a growing number of Vermonters are experiencing on a regular basis.
It’s the fifth annual “Sleep Out to end Homelessness,” through which participants collect pledges in their commitment to spend the night near the Otter Creek Falls. The event has become a staple fundraiser for JGHS, which among other things operates a homeless shelter in Vergennes and four apartment buildings in the county offering transitional housing to those in need.
Past sleep outs have typically raised $35,000 to $40,000 — money used to help homeless clients, according to JGHS Chief Financial Officer Elizabeth Ready. Ready was executive director of the organization when it launched the sleep out in 2013.
Participants will first meet for a vigil on the Middlebury town green from 4:30-5:30 p.m. They’ll then sit down to a communal meal at nearby St. Stephen’s Church before setting off to their campsite in the Marble Works at the Otter Creek Falls.
“It’s satisfying,” John Graham Board Chairperson and faithful sleep out participant Abi Sessions said through a recent press release. “Its a chance to put yourself in someone else’s shoes. You crawl out of your frosty tent, warm your hands by the fire, and know that you’ve helped homeless families with children get a home of their own. I would really like to invite people to join us.”
Pete Kellerman, co-director of John Graham Housing and Services, noted those unable to brave a night out in the cold can still help by putting up a fundraising page and reaching out to family and friends to donate.
“The past year has been a harsh time for too many people,” Kellerman said. “Homeless families with children increased. Too many suffer from addictions, violence, displacement and trauma, and this is not acceptable to us.”
Fellow Co-Director Kate Schirmer Smith stressed JGHS does more than offer a warm meal, roof and bed. It helps people find permanent housing and employment, while counseling people in crisis or struggling with mental health issues and/or addictions.
“There is nothing like helping a mother with her new baby move into their own place after a long difficult journey,” she added.
“How would it be possible without the kindness and care of this community?”
Sessions put the fund raising impact in perspective. Those who raise $1,000 through the sleep out are delivering the equivalent of a deposit and first month’s rent for a family of four, she said. A $500 donation can help a family pay off back rent and avoid eviction.
“The results are direct and far-reaching,” she said. “Children do better at school and parents can better hold on to a job when they have a home.”
To sleep out or become a fundraiser, contact Ready at [email protected], 802-989-2581 or log on to johngrahamshelter.org/sleepout.
Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected].

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