By Geri Gibbons, Wilkes-Barre Times Leader
WILKES-BARRE — Hundreds of people gathered at Public Square on Sunday as a show of support for Ruth’s Place annual Walk of Hope.
A program of Volunteers of America, the shelter is a haven for homeless women across Luzerne County, providing case management, referrals, food services and support, in addition to giving the women a roof over their heads.
Jackie Tona, program director, addressed those gathered before the Walk of Hope began.
“Let me tell you what hope looks like at the shelter,” she said. “Each woman who has the courage to walk through the door has hope to have a better life. She has hope to find a safe and stable place to live, hope to put the missing pieces of her life back together.”
Valerie Wilson then told the crowd how the program had benefited her.
She remembers being at the homeless shelter two years ago, where she received not only a safe place to stay, but the services she needed to get back on her feet.
Wilson went on to complete a transitional living program, work as a certified nursing assistant and is now living in her own apartment.
She recounted the hopelessness that she had once felt and the positive changes she has made since then.
If it was not for the opportunity provided by Ruth’s Place, Wilson said, she would not be at this good place in her life.
Participants viewed the walk not simply as a way to get a bit of exercise or an afternoon of community support. Instead, many were focused on an ongoing effort to better the lives of the less fortunate.
Mary Sullivan, director of student life and athletics at Luzerne County Community College, brought out a group of over a dozen students to interact with members of the community and to understand what it might be like to be homeless, to live at a shelter, to need the help of others.
Sullivan said with many graduates of the college remaining in the area, the event and similar efforts were a great way to for them to learn about needs and resources resources and, through their support and volunteerism, benefit the city and surrounding areas in the short and long term.
“It’s important for our students to support nonprofit groups such as this,” she said. “The other night I brought students to volunteer at St. Vincent’s soup kitchen.”
Kathleen Carey, a student at the college, said she believed the event was a chance to make a difference and become familiar with available resources in the community.
“I especially enjoyed hearing stories of success from women at Ruth’s Place,” she said. “I like it that the event focused on hope.”
Other organizations also had a stand at the event, with the Salvation Army offering free tomatoes, water and coffee.
“We help out as much as we can, with whatever we can,” said volunteer Bill Femea.
Kristen Topolski, Wilkes-Barre programs coordinator, deemed the ninth annual event a success, with a turnout of about 200.
The event was an opportunity for both fundraising and education about the frustrations of homeless women, according to Tona.
Describing a typical woman making her way out of homelessness, Tona said, “She is not only the face of hope, but the face of resilience, endurance and determination.”