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The Flor-Ala

The Student News Site of University of North Alabama

The Flor-Ala

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Home Free Haven aids community during inclement weather

Tara and Will Willis. Courtesy of Home Free Haven.

During the winter season, Home Free Haven offers assistance and resources to those in the local community who may be in need. 

Home Free Haven is a nonprofit organization that works to provide food, shelter and resources to those in need in the Shoals area during the winter months. The organization carries out the mission of Room in the Inn – Shoals after its dissolution, but the two nonprofits are not the same entity. Home Free Haven is currently in its opening winter season.

The organization is run by Executive Director Tara Willis and her husband, Director of Programs and Services Will Willis. The couple decided to try to get more involved in the community, so they began volunteering at The Healing Place to help grieving children before they learned about Home Free Haven. 

“Once Home Free Haven began to get started, the board members are friends of ours, so they asked me to join them for a meeting at the mayor’s office,” said Will Willis. “My experience is in sales, business development and banking, so I’m more familiar and accustomed to dealing with people in those types of positions. They asked me to join, really just for that meeting, and it just sort of snowballed for Tara and I from there. We saw that we really had a passion for it, and we decided to do as much as we could with the time that we have available, to the point now where we’re leading the organization.”

Home Free Haven partners with local churches to provide overnight shelter to those who may need it, and they also work with a team of volunteers to provide assistance, case management, food, clothing, hygiene supplies and other forms of care to the communities they aid. The services and resources that Home Free Haven provides are not just for those who are unhoused. The organization also aids those struggling with food insecurity or lacking consistent transportation, as well as those who might be in need of a warm place to stay during cold weather. 

“We try to make it easy to say yes,” Will Willis said. “We want to make sure that anyone who might need help is able to accept it. It’s not always the easiest thing to do. It’s in human nature to have pride, so accepting help from someone is not always easy, but we want to make it as easy as possible. We want to make sure that anyone who might need help understands that they’re not going to receive any judgment from us. We are literally only here to care for you, and that depends on where you are and what you need at the moment. We want to meet people where they are, in their current state, and figure out what their next step is. Ultimately, the goal is to care for people and make sure that they are treated with dignity and respect. We ask the same of them in the way they treat us. It has been a very positive experience. We have a lot of good relationships that we’ve built with the guests, and I hope we continue to build on that so we can enact more positive change.”

During the recent snow and ice, many were in need of assistance, so Tara and Will Willis, along with Home Free Haven volunteers, worked around-the-clock to help as many people as possible. 

“It was both physically and mentally exhausting for an eleven-day stretch,” Will Willis said. “We were open eleven nights in a row, and for nine of those, we were also housing during the daytime at the church facilities. We went from around four o’clock on Saturday afternoon, and it was about 5:30 on Monday evening before we finally got everyone situated where they needed to be. We worked basically 24/7 with our guests, which did present a lot more challenges than we’re used to, but it also presented more opportunities. We saw our group really come together during that time. A lot of positives came out of that week despite the extra challenges that were thrown at us. We had a lot of support from our church partners especially.” 

During the inclement weather, Home Free Haven saw an increase in donations of items, such as clothing, blankets, sleeping bags and hygiene supplies, and they have also received financial donations. Many local people also volunteered to make meals for Home Free Haven’s guests, which took strain off of the churches who were housing the guests. 

Home Free Haven partners with around ten local churches to provide shelter to people in need, and they hope to expand their outreach through the addition of new churches in the near future. They also have a core group of volunteers that consistently help out, which they are also looking to add to soon.

“We’re trying to, if at all possible, grow to the point that we can do more than just house folks overnight in churches,” Will Willis said. “We really have aspirations to do a lot more than that, and we are currently doing a little bit more than that as we can. At this point, though, we don’t really have the resources to do as much as we would like to. We literally just began as a start-up in October, so we’re pretty much three months into Home Free Haven. It still needs a lot of growth and a lot of fundraising to get to where we want to be.”

For those interested in volunteering with Home Free Haven, the easiest source for information is through their Facebook, which is where they post all information and links for their church registration form and their volunteer registration form. Alternatively, those who are interested can also reach out to Home Free Haven at their email, [email protected], for any additional information.

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About the Contributor
Kelley Peters, Managing Editor
Kelley is a junior from Tupelo, Miss. who is majoring in English literature with a minor in applied linguistics. She is currently Managing Editor for The Flor-Ala. She has loved reading for as long as she can remember, which developed her love of storytelling and the English language. Her career goal is to become an English professor at a university. She was previously a volunteer writer in the Fall of 2021, became a Staff Writer in January of 2022 and moved to being News Editor in January of 2023.

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    RayFeb 1, 2024 at 11:01 pm

    Thank God for these dedicated people who are helping folks in need!