Category Archives: News

Room at the Inn’s New Program Director

“I was really drawn to the interfaith approach of Room’s program and how they educate and engage the community through the night sites,” says Valorie Ferlis, program director of Room at the Inn. “I was familiar with the shelter and the work they do because my husband was a night site volunteer at Eliot Unitarian Chapel several years ago. He just loved it.”

Valorie has a bachelor of science degree in Child Development and Family Relations from Southern Illinois University-Carbondale and nearly 30 years of experience in the nonprofit sector. She worked at the American Red Cross for almost 19 years in several key positions including as the manager of disaster services, family assistance supervisor, emergency services supervisor, division trainer and case manager. Valorie worked as the events specialist as Children’s Concepts and director/marketing manager of KIDSPLAY, Inc. She was also the resource development director and volunteer coordinator at Humantri for almost nine years where she first began working with the homeless in our community.

“Humanitri’s focus was on transitional housing and clients had up to two years to complete the program,” explains Valorie. “Many of the aspects of that program are similar to Room’s but since this is an emergency shelter, we only have 30 days to work with clients to accomplish their goals.”

As the program director, Valorie is responsible for the entire operation of Room at the Inn, specifically directing the shelter program, supervising staff and fiscal management. She is looking forward to visiting the night sites to express gratitude for what they do and to see Room’s program in action.

“The night site volunteers have direct interaction with our clients who need that positive experience of seeing first-hand that people really do care about them. Volunteers prepare the meals, play with the kids and can provide emotional support, if a client is open to it,” says Valorie. “That fellowship can make such a difference to someone whose self-esteem has been damaged by the circumstances they are in.”

Valorie believes that restoring a client’s self-esteem while they are in a shelter program is key to helping them become self-reliant again.

“One of the best things we can do for our clients is to make them feel like they can start over again,” she says. “They can grow through this experience and come out on the other side stronger because of it.”

Room at the Inn Open House Reception

In honor of Program Director Joann Nowak, O.S.F.’s retirement, Room at the Inn is hosting an open house reception on Thursday, July 26 from 3:00 to 7:00 p.m. at the shelter. Cake, coffee and tea will be served. Please stop by to share memories and well wishes with Sister Joann and meet Room’s new Program Director, Valorie Ferlis!

Valorie is a highly skilled professional with 25+ years experience in supervisory and management level positions in social services agencies. She has extensive volunteer management experience with proven abilities in managing a large and diverse volunteer work force. Recent experience also includes responsibilities for resource development functions. She is a skilled trainer and is articulate in written and verbal presentations.

Meet Chris Hotard

“Volunteering with Room at the Inn through the night sites is an opportunity to put your faith into action and make a difference in your community in a meaningful way,” says Chris Hotard.

Chris is the new night site coordinator for Room at the Inn. It is a new title that distinguishes his role from that of Melanie Matthew, the volunteer coordinator for the day site. Chris was raised in High Ridge, Mo., where his father was the church pianist at Valley Park United Methodist Church for more than 20 years. Actively involved in music ministry throughout his youth, Chris attended Indiana University where he received a B.S.O.F. in piano performance and philosophy. After graduation, Chris briefly considered pursuing a law degree, but felt drawn to social service and began to explore his options.

“I found the AmeriCorps VISTA program, which was a great fit for me, and I served for a year as the volunteer coordinator for The Other Place, a homeless shelter in Dayton, Ohio,” says Chris. “It was a life changing experience for me. For the first time, I was doing something I really believed in.”

Over the course of the next year, Chris more than tripled the size of their volunteer program. Realizing this was the career he wanted, he returned to Indiana University and earned a masters degree in non-profit management. While there, he received hands-on experience leading a group of peers in creating a comprehensive fundraising plan for Catholic Charities in Bloomington, Ind. Chris then spent a year as a community organizer for Congregations Acting for Justice and Empowerment (CAJE) in Evansville, Ind. At CAJE, he worked with a diverse group of 13 congregations on building a justice ministry to address the systemic changes needed in the community.

It was the desire to be close to family that brought Chris and his wife, Emily, back to St. Louis, Mo. As the night site coordinator, Chris is looking forward to working with the congregations and helping them find ways to be engaged in social outreach.

“I am excited to meet the night site volunteers and their congregations. Before I worked at AmeriCorps VISTA, I wasn’t attached to the issue of homelessness – until I started working at the shelter and got to know the clients,” recalls Chris. “It really humanized the issue for me. I believe if someone is willing to work hard to make a better life for themselves and their families, they should have the opportunity to do so and that’s what Room at the Inn is all about.”

Beloved Board Member Completes Service

The June 25th meeting of Room at the Inn’s Board of Directors was a milestone for Past Board Chairperson Rose Mary Green. After three consecutive terms of three years each, Rose Mary has completed her terms of service on the board. Her dedication to Room at the Inn began one evening by chance during a visit to Mount Providence many years ago, the former motherhouse of the Missouri-area Sisters of Divine Providence.

“I stopped by to pick up my friend and colleague Sister Joan Albaugh, who taught with me at Ascension School for many years, to take her out for dinner,” recalls Rose Mary. “While I was waiting for her, I saw the Room at the Inn clients coming in carrying all their earthly possessions in plastic grocery bags. That night there was no night site available, so the clients slept on the top floor at Mount Providence. Seeing them really touched my heart and I knew then and there I wanted to be involved with the ministry.”

In her nine years of service, Rose Mary has witnessed significant growth in both the board and the shelter.

“Shortly after I began serving, key people were put into place at the shelter and on the board,” Rose Mary says. “Sister Joann Nowak became the new program director and Julie Stein began her service on the board. Julie’s extensive board experience and enthusiasm helped the board grow into a diverse group of professionals with various backgrounds and contacts. As the culture and composition of the board changed, so did the resources Room needed to provide quality service to clients.”

Rose Mary strongly feels Room at the Inn wouldn’t exist without the tremendous contributions the night sites provide to the shelter’s program. When a congregation becomes a night site, it gives the volunteers and everyone involved the opportunity to do their part to help change the lives of the homeless in our community.

“No one person can solve the big issues of homelessness but when a volunteer can give a few hours of their time, it can help change a person’s life, which, in turn, may help their family and show them a different picture of what their life could be,” says Rose Mary. “We all need to see ourselves doing something above and beyond what we think we can do. You have to believe change is possible first before that change can happen.”

A supervisor of student teachers for Missouri State University, Rose Mary plans to stay involved with Room at the Inn in the future. She is looking forward to seeing the shelter continue to grow and expand with a new program director and continued active board involvement. Rose Mary offers this piece of advice to anyone considering serving on the board or volunteering at Room at the Inn.

“Do it,” she says without hesitation. “It is such a worthwhile cause and your opportunity to do your part in making positive change happen. Get involved as much as you can. You may have a special gift or connection that no one else has and those are the kinds of things that places like Room need to succeed in their mission.”

We thank Rose Mary for her countless hours of dedicated service to Room at the Inn and our clients.

Program Director Joann Nowak, O.S.F. Retires

“I think a great deal of this ministry and want to see it continue,” says Joann Nowak, O.S.F.

Since 2004, Sister Joann has been the program director of Room at the Inn. Born in Washington, Mo., she entered the Franciscan Sisters of Our Lady of Perpetual Help in 1958 and made her profession in 1961. She earned a BA from Marillac College in St. Louis and an MA from the University of Dayton.

Her first ministry was in elementary education, as both a teacher and a principal, for 24 years. Sister Joann taught in schools in Louisiana, Illinois, Missouri, Nebraska and Ohio. After that, she served her religious community in leadership positions for five years. During that time, Sister Joann went through a renewal process and decided she wanted to work with the poor.

“I spent a year as a volunteer at Mary’s Song Community in Maryland where I lived and worked with two Holy Cross Sisters. They had a free clinic in one county and a soup kitchen in another,” Sister Joann recalls. “After the year was over, I started looking for a job. Through my community, I found one in West Virginia as the Coordinator of Community Development in a ministry centered around a food pantry.”

Sister Joann was invited to come back to St. Louis when the Franciscan Sisters began setting up a formation house for vocations. Once again, she began a job search and was notified about the position at Room at the Inn. At that time, Zita Telkamp, CDP was serving as temporary program director. Sister Joann interviewed with her and other members of the search team, was offered the position and accepted.

In the past eight years, Sister Joann has seen first-hand the impact Room at the Inn has had on the homeless of St. Louis County. She has also been witness to some wonderful collaboratives with the night sites.

“Often times, two congregations in the same neighborhood would come together to become a night site because individually, they didn’t have enough resources,” says Sister Joann.

“The whole interfaith-element of our program is by nature very ‘neighborly’ because it isn’t about theology or the differences between faiths. It’s simply about serving a need in the community. The night site volunteers have been wonderful to work with.”

Room clients need the comfort the night sites offer because often by the time they enter the shelter, their self-worth has been damaged by either people or the circumstances of life. The night sites help clients regain hope, which is part of the healing process, and enables them to take those first steps toward self-reliance.

“There is definitely a readiness point for clients. People are not always ready to make the changes they need to make and they walk away without getting the help. Sometimes, we just have to give them time,” Sister Joann explains. “Even though the stay in an emergency shelter is short term, it can do a great deal to help change a person’s habits and attitudes. No matter how much aid someone gets, change won’t happen if they keep doing the same things over and over.”

When change does happen for a client, it is a significant moment and one that has had the most meaning to Sister Joann over the past eight years.

“When it comes together for a client, you just know you were part of something much bigger than yourself,” she explains. “No one thing or person can make it happen but collectively, it does.”

Room’s board of directors is actively engaged in searching for Sister Joann’s successor. To ensure a smooth transition, Sister Joann plans on staying in her position during this time to train the new program director before starting the next chapter in her ministerial life.

“Looking across society, I saw a real need to work with seniors so they don’t have to be institutionalized,” Sister Joann says. “I have accepted a position with Visiting Angels working with seniors in their home providing supportive services.”

As to the future of Room at the Inn, Sister Joann sees the shelter evolving to continually meet the changing needs of the times.

“The role of the emergency shelter and the services they provide was the topic of a meeting I recently attended. There is a real effort to get those in emergency shelters ready for transitional housing,” says Sister Joann. “I know as the industry changes, so will Room at the Inn. This is not static work and I am so proud to have been a part of it.”


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