Gail Maholick/TIMES NEWS Peaceful Nights celebrated the success of some of their "graduates." The organization is hoping to draw more clients and volunteers into the organization. From left, front row, are Aggie Shehadeh, founder, Melissa Pankevitch, client; and Missy Hascher, board member and treasurer; and back row, Dawn Eisenhower, volunteer; J.D. Klotz, Eddie and Wally Balwin, clients; and Susan Debski, volunteer coordinator.
There are Peaceful Knights in Carbon County.
That name has meant a warm bed, a job and a real home for a number of destitute people. The Christian-based, non-profit organization strives to help adult homeless find a job, a home and self-respect.
The group was founded in December, 2007 by Aggie Shehadeh, who felt that homeless people should have a warm safe place to sleep at night. It was soon leading them to temporary safe shelter and access to local organizations that provide assistance.
"There are a lot of homeless people here in Carbon County," said Shehadeh. Since, as a realtor, she's in the business of providing homes to people, Shehadeh knows the demographics of this area and that there are people in need of basics, such as shelter.
After the organization received its IRS public charity status last October, Shehadeh and the rest of her five-man board hit the ground running. They waited until this spring before celebrating the successes of some of their "graduates" who have gone from homelessness to having a real home.
J.D. Klotz is one of the graduates of Peaceful Knights. He was between apartments and in need of a helping hand until his new apartment opened up.
"I made some mistakes," said Klotz. "My nights were anything but peaceful. I was at the lowest point of my life."
Klotz is now self-sufficient and has turned his life around and is moving forward.
Others require more intensive help. One couple, who were homeless drug addicts, had lost hope, dignity and custody of their three young children because of their out-of-control behavior.
Wally Balwin and Melissa Pankevitch, who a short time ago were more interested in taking pain killers than in caring for their three young children - two girls and a boy. Their life of heroin addiction began with taking the pain killers and escalated to heroin.
"We hung out with the wrong people and pretty much our priority was getting high," said Wally. "Our priorities were all screwed up."
Melissa described their complete turnaround.
"We had an appointment with Peaceful Knights because we had no place to go," she said.
That day, when Shehadeh took the couple's hands, was the turning point.
"We are 103 days sober," said Melissa. "We learned that we can do it if we take one day at a time."
The couple are finally becoming the people they want to be.
"We want to be a really great family and plan yearly vacations like other people," said Melissa. "We have our own place and we are due to get our children back home next month. I have a job and I love being sober."
The couple also credits God for being a guiding force in their lives.
"You have to want to change," Melissa said. "We now have the same goals and we want to get married and create lots and lots of memories with our children. We have hope because we know God and we know God can do miracles. We have the hope and faith to accept his grace.
"We don't have the same old urges anymore," she added. "We don't want to use drugs. We go to NA (Narcotics Anonymous) and AA (Alcoholics Anonymous) meetings and we are sticking to a budget."
Lilly and Rich Sawyer's story has a similar ending. They were staying with a friend, who had a breakdown and threw them out on the street without any prior warning.
"We had no where to go," said Lilly.
"God has blessed us," said Lilly. "We're both working full time and we have an apartment."
Lilly said that it was difficult to try to find work and shower while sleeping in a car.
"We were getting three hours of sleep a night," said Rich. "We thank God for looking out for us. Peaceful Knights has been a tremendous support for us and we plan on getting married."
Eddie's apartment in Lehighton is the first real home he's had.
"I lived in Philadelphia and came here to stay with a girl," he said.
When her family said it was time to move on, Eddie didn't have the funds or desire to move back to Philadelphia, so he stayed in Lehighton. He had no job, no home and no hope. After finding Peaceful Knights, Eddie has been hooked up with a job, an apartment and now a great attitude toward life.
"I know that I don't make a lot of money and I have to walk to work, stand on my feet all day and walk home, but it's my first home in my life," said Eddie. "It's hard, but I am glad God brought me to this place. I'm a changed person. I love having my own place."
Clients agree that Peaceful Knights is not a band-aid program just to temporarily help them feel better. The program means hard work and there are rules to follow.
During the first phase of Peaceful Knights, a client receives a hotel/motel for a one-night stay and a meal.
Peaceful Knights does not accept anyone with children, or anyone who is chronically homeless, and clients must be sober. They must also have a willing attitude. If these criteria are met, clients qualify for phase two.
During phase two, Peaceful Knights provides a week of housing. The client meets with a peer counselor at least three times during this period.
The client must pass various criteria, including being drug free, being free of severe health/mental health issues, and is subjected to a criminal-background check. During this phase, Peaceful Knights continues to provide shelter, meals and personal hygiene items and basic clothing needs.
By the end of the week, a determination is made as to whether the client can likely reach self sufficiency within 90 days. If so, the client enters phase three.
During phase three, clients are housed in an apartment or hotel room and have definite tasks, such as building job skills, setting goals and attending counseling/training sessions, plus learning to manage money. They are also required to spend time volunteering to help others until they are employed.
Shehadeh said that any clients who do not qualify for help through Peaceful Knights are offered transportation to an out-of-town shelter.
"We're making a difference," said Shehadeh. "Homelessness is such a lonely time."
Shehadeh said that she had waited to go public with Peaceful Knights because they needed time to organize.
"We're looking for volunteers, willing landlords, and job/volunteer opportunities." she said. "There is much to do."
Shehadeh said Peaceful Knights spends approximately $650 a client. Over 98 percent of every dollar donated goes directly to assisting our clients and all donations are tax deductible.
"We're hoping to give more people Peaceful Knights," she said.
For additional information about Peaceful Knights or to invite them to come and speak to your group or organization, call (610) 393-2536 or email Peace@ptd.net. Be sure to visit their website www.PeacefulKnights.org