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December 4, 2017   Inside UGA

Interfaith Hospitality Network of Athens dedicated to fighting homelessness

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The Interfaith Hospitality Network of Athens is an organization dedicated to fighting homelessness in Athens-Clarke County. Composed of 36 Athens-area religious congregations, the network seeks to help a specific and vulnerable group: homeless families.

"IHN of Athens provides immediate shelter, support and guidance, so these families can get back on their feet again," said Holley Schramski, a former IHN of Athens board member and the associate vice president for university business and accounting services at the University of Georgia. "What sets this apart from another homeless shelter is that it is designed to keep the family together."

IHN of Athens is one of the more than 1,400 organizations supported by UGA's annual Campaign for Charities, which ends Dec. 15. Through its network of congregations, the organization provides families with food and shelter, with some ­congregations taking turns to host the families overnight. In 2016, IHN of Athens helped 44 people—29 children and 15 adults, which made up 13 families. The monetary value of the program's lodging, meals and volunteer work is approximately $350,000 a year.

"The families are provided a hospitable environment so that while they are going through this difficult time period, there is some sense of consistency and normalcy," said Schramski.

Volunteers eat dinner and spend time getting to know the families on a nightly basis. Schramski and her husband, John, would bring their children, Anna and Jack, who played games and did their homework with the children.

"The most rewarding part of volunteering with IHN of Athens is spending time with the actual families," said Schramski.

The eventual goal of the organization is to transition families to a place of stable independence and help adult family members find sustainable employment. Volunteers are encouraged to donate both their time and talents, which range from helping prepare for interviews to giving advice on career growth.

"Volunteering at IHN of Athens is so easy to do," Schramski said. "You can figure out what your best talent is and put it to work. You get to help someone and also be a part of their growth."

Schramski and her family are members of First United Methodist Church of Athens, which is an IHN of Athens host congregation. She served on the IHN of Athens board from 2010 to 2016. During that time, she was able to take many of the professional skills she uses on a daily basis at UGA and apply them to IHN of Athens.

"Being a board member, I was able to take my business, organizational and operations skills and use them to help people," she said.

Although she no longer is on the board, Schramski is still involved in IHN of Athens and continues to volunteer.

"This program really makes a difference," she said.