In an old church gymnasium in south Augusta last week, a few children played while Spongebob Squarepants chattered on the television.
Some of their mothers sat chatting nearby, though most were on an excursion with representatives of Goodwill Industries to search for jobs.
For these children, their mothers and a few single women, this gym is home, at least temporarily.
Head of the Giant ministries moved into the building in May from a house on Windsor Spring Road to serve homeless women and children. (The Windsor Spring Road location now serves only men.)
For seven years, Lavond Reynolds worked with the homeless at the Augusta Rescue Mission, but felt more shelters were needed to help the growing homeless population.
Since it opened in May, 53 family units, 120 children and 32 single women with no children have been sheltered by the ministry.
“(Women and children have) become one of the largest homeless populations across the country, not just in Augusta,” said Renee Reynolds. “It’s a lot easier to provide shelter for men that are homeless than for women and children because with children, there are a lot more difficulty and requirements in order to provide safety for children.”
The new facility has a large common room with a dining area and a kitchen, a room for single women and two rooms for women with children, and a laundry room.
“There’s still not enough shelter in this area to meet the demands of families and women and children – and single women – who are becoming homeless every day,” Renee Reynolds said.
Head of the Giant connects women to other organizations in the area to provide resources to help them become self-sufficient.
For example, representatives from the United Way give the women bus tickets and phone services, while Goodwill Industries helps them look for jobs.
“(We give) the ladies calendars, telling them to annotate each day what they’re doing to help themselves meet goals that they have set,” said women’s director Connie Buckley.
She asks each woman to write down three goals she wants to achieve during her stay, which can be up to 90 days. Buckley meets with the women every 14 days to make sure they are on track to meet those goals.
“(This way) they feel secure they don’t have to leave out before that 90 days, but they’re also focused on what the true goal is, because they can get real comfortable here,” she said.
To keep their ministry focused on Christian care, Lavond Reynolds said Head of the Giant relies on donations rather than federal or state funds. He stressed, however, that no one would be turned away because they observe a different faith.
Anyone seeking shelter must get a shelter clearance pass (similar to a background check, but free). Staff will verify that the children belong to the mother seeking shelter, and staff will undertake a sex offenders check on each applicant.
The Reynoldses are seeking volunteers to help perform a variety of duties, from clerical to maintenance work on the building, which is in need of repair.
Volunteers are also needed to provide transportation for the women to get to and from work and to teach life skills classes such as budgeting and parenting.
Reynolds said he would also appreciate help from churches and civic groups to prepare meals and offer activities.
He is also looking for volunteers to serve on a board of directors to help build and perpetuate the ministry.
“Renee and I don’t plan on being in Augusta forever. That’s a promise I made to her, but we want Head of the Giant to be here forever,” Lavond Reynolds said.