Safe Harbor celebrates 20 years

This article can be found published on the Daily Local News‘ website.
Safe Harbor in West Chester is celebrating its 20th anniversary since it opened its doors at this building. (Daily Local News)

Safe Harbor in West Chester is celebrating its 20th anniversary since it opened its doors at this building. (Daily Local News)

As the board and staff at Safe Harbor see it, they’re just 20 years young.

While they celebrate the shelter’s platinum anniversary, it’s also a time to reflect on what Safe Harbor has provided over the years.

“It started out to address to the men and women — men mostly — that were bathing in the fountains in the center of town and hanging and sleeping outside of the courthouse back in the early ‘90s,” said Gina Harrison, the shelter’s development director.

After spending about three years as a homeless shelter, Safe Harbor was able to open its doors in December 1995 at 20 N. Matlack St.

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“We opened the building to have 20 men and, at that time, four women,” Harrison said. “Safe Harbor has no religious affiliation and we have no agenda — we are open to the people that get turned away everywhere else.

“In other words, if someone comes from the prison or someone comes with drug or alcohol addiction or mental health issues, nobody is turned away. We are low demand and we welcome anybody.”

The shelter was open for single adult men and single adult women — something not offered in other places in Chester County.

In 2010, Safe Harbor was able to expand with an upstairs to increase the capacity to 20 men and 20 women.

“The need was there and our beds are full almost every night,” Harrison said. “We succeed because we have an unbelievable amount of support in Chester County, from the individuals here from the local rotary clubs and school groups and so on and from all kinds of local businesses.”

Safe Harbor is constantly getting support from the community in the form of deliveries from places such as Whole Food Markets and GIANT Food, volunteer work from groups and individuals and monetary donations from businesses and more.

“I can’t even begin to tell you how cool that is,” Harrison said. “It blows my mind the kind of support we get. The phone calls that we receive and the people that drop by the doors — some with a dollar bill, some with a $10,000 check.”

Because of the help, Safe Harbor is able to have a full-time case manager and a clinical director who comes in during the evenings and weekends.

To celebrate 20 years, Safe Harbor is having a bash at the Mendenhall Inn in Chadds Ford Saturday night.

In attendance will be many of the founders, plus Sen. Andy Dinniman.

“The exciting thing about this celebration is we’re introducing a brand new award,” Harrison said. “In honor of the memory of Jack Loew. “He developed brain cancer and passed away just over a year ago. At this event, his widow and her family will be there. We have created the Safe Harbor Jack Loew Inspirational Leadership Award.”

Once the invitations went out and ticket sales were open for the celebration, it took only two weeks for them to have to close because every tickets was sold.

The 260 people attending will have the chance to bid on one of 13 live auction items, including trips to France and Costa Rica; 50 silent auction items; and about 20 raffles as well.

“We have a treasure chest,” Harrison said. “We’re selling 100 keys to a mystery item that is over $500 in value and has been donated by QVC. Nobody knows what they’re trying to win, but they’ll be turning keys to see whose key opens the treasure box.”

It’s astounding to the staff just how many people care about Safe Harbor, even after all these years.

“It’s just amazing that we are here and we can’t imagine not being here 20 years from now,” Harrison said. “We’re like the Hilton of shelters. We’re not only proud of the fact that we have the doors open, but when they come here, the place is amazing and clean.

“It’s filled with people who work here who really care about what they do, and not the least of which is our CEO Glen Fricke. He has been here for close to 10 years and has had tremendous impact.”

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