Lake Geneva group works Side by Side for those in need

By Donna Lenz Wright/The Week

(Published October. 11, 2006, 8:38 a.m.)

A big heart and desire to help her community landed Shannon Blay of Lake Geneva the role of organizing a community assistance group much like other area communities have formed.

"A few clergy members in Lake Geneva approached me and said we have all these people coming to our church(es) asking for financial help for things like rent or gas," Blay said. "We don't have groups like the other towns around here have and we found we were sending our people to those groups to get help.

"We have the Salvation Army, and they do take care of some of that kind of thing, but that money runs out before the year is over and they can't do any more."

The other groups Blay is referring to include Hope Now, Inc. in Elkhorn; the Walworth County Emergency Homeless Shelter that rotates locations; Delavan Human Concerns; and Love, Inc. in Burlington, among others.

Blay attends the Emmanuel Lutheran Church in Lake Geneva. At a recent organizational meeting for Side by Side, Inc., Blay noticed the wide array of churches and citizens working together for others in their community.

"At our last meeting we had people from five different churches and community members sitting side by side to help our community members," she said. "It was just great."

As it is with the other charitable organizations, members want to be there for their hard working neighbors who suddenly find themselves in real trouble.

Side by Side, Inc. plans to offer assistance "in the areas of rent, utilities and prescription medicines because those are three of the least assisted areas there are if you go through the system or any other human concerns groups," Blay said.

They're planning on serving as a resource center to avoid duplicating services, and a liaison between people and service providers to try to work out long-term plans.

"We're really modeling ourselves after Hope Now (Inc.) because they've got it down," she said. "What they're doing works, and they've helped us in organizing a lot."

People so easily can find themselves in a dire situation in a short span of time. Just one month where rent can't be paid can snowball into months of accumulating financial problems, she said.

"We want to keep people from being in the system just because they couldn't pay rent for one month; that's really sad," Blay says. "We want to keep that from happening-it can happen to any of us and we're here for them."

Side by Side, Inc. will spend the rest of this year organizing and accepting donations with the help of volunteers, including a local lawyer and accountant, and plan to open their doors Jan. 1, 2007.

"We're already getting calls every day," Blay said. "It takes a lot to come to someone and ask for help and to be able to be there and say, "it's OK,' is invaluable."

Side by Side, Inc. board members include Lynn Connors, Congregational Church; Pastor Bob Bardin, Chapel on the Hill; Jim Cusack, St. Francis De Sales; Pastor Mary Ann Moller-Gunderson, Emmanual Lutheran Church; Lynelle Gramm, United Methodist Church; Pastor Nelson Bonilla, La Resurreccion, Lee Redmer and Shannon Blay.

The group meets the second Tuesday of each month at 7 p.m. at Emmanuel Lutheran Church, 1229 Park Row, Lake Geneva for anyone interested in volunteering or inquiring about the organization. Information is also available by calling 245-9122 or visiting Donations can be mailed to N2440 Ara Glenn Drive, Lake Geneva, WI 53147.




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