MICHIGAN CITY — Jonathan Hodges, a foreman with R.L. Roofing Service, had been on the job at the Anthony Adams House for hours Monday before he realized fully what he was doing.

“Isn’t this going to be a place for homeless mothers?” he asked, before being informed it will become an emergency shelter for homeless and runaway youth.

“I didn’t realize that,” Hodges said. “I’ve had my own experience with being homeless. I was a ward of the state from the time I was 5 years old. I lived in different foster homes when I was growing up, so I know all about kids being neglected. This really does hit home.”

At the suggestion that he had come full circle and was essentially helping the younger version of himself, he wiped his face and struggled to find the words.

“People like this, people with a heart brought me in,” he managed. “What an opportunity this is for me to give back.”

Likewise, Jason Coleman, another job foreman for the roofing company, said volunteering his time and effort was a “no-brainer” once he heard the cause was a safe haven for some of the city’s most vulnerable youth.

“I used to be one of those kids,” Coleman said. “I started this job when I was 16. I was one of those teens who was at risk; but Rich (Leslie Sr.) gave me a chance, and I’ve been here ever since.”

In fact, a crew of 14 from R.L. Roofing showed up Monday to “give back.”

They tore the roof off the Eastport neighborhood residence, replaced the rotted wood, laid synthetic felt, installed shingles and cleaned up the yard.

“Every person here is donating his time,” said Rich Leslie Jr., vice president of operations at R.L.

“They really stepped up and were extremely excited to do something for the community. They’re not getting paid for this. They’re taking money out of their checks this week just to be able to give back to the community that we all grew up in and love.”

Kevin Hutson, sales team manager at R.L., said that while the roofing company donated all the wood and nails for the project, GAF donated the shingles and most of the other materials needed for the new roof.

La Porte Seamless Gutter supplied new gutters; and City Lanes provided lunch for the workers who volunteered their time and effort.

“The whole community has stepped up to make this a reality,” he said. “And that just goes to show what kind of place Michigan City is. I’ve always loved it here.

“It’s easy to live here and work here and just absorb from the community,” Hutson said. “But we saw this as an opportunity to show that we’re not just another big company that’s trying to soak up all of the resources for ourselves. We thought it would be a nice way to give back.”

Leslie Jr. said because the Michigan City community has supported his family’s business for more than 35 years, the family made the decision to donate their time and resources for one project per year – Anthony Adams House being the first of the annual contributions.

Candice Nelson, founder of the shelter, was overwhelmed at times Monday.

“I can’t even describe how I feel right now,” she said. “It’s a good feeling inside to know that these guys took time out of their day to do this, to help bring this together for me. Words can’t even explain how I feel.”

Nelson said she’d hoped to have the shelter up and running by the end of summer in 2019, but discovered while gutting the interior that the roof had three or four major leaks.

She contacted GAF to price supplies and explained to them her vision, and they recommended she call R.L. Roofing.

Expecting to have a bill of thousands of dollars to pay for her shelter’s new roof, Nelson said she was shocked when they told her it was going to be free.

“I feel so blessed,” she said, shaking her head as she watched the roofers work. “And as I’m blessed, I will be passing it on.”

And now, with the leaky roof out of the way, Nelson looks forward to being able to complete the interior construction and have her shelter open by the end of summer 2020.

According to Nelson, her organization can provide emergency shelter for runaways up to age 18, and homeless youth through age 21.

She said teens fleeing from abuse or neglect need safe places to go to connect with a trusted adult and get referrals for vital services.

But Nelson clarified that although her program is approved under the Runaway and Homeless Youth Act of 2008, it does not give her the ability to harbor teens who have violated the law or fled from institutions such as a juvenile detention center.

“It’s not a flop house for teens who don’t want to follow the rules at home,” she said. “It’s structured; they’ll have rules here.

“They’ll have to go to school, job search. The goal is to get them back with their families or to get them equipped with the skills they need to be successful in their own place.”

The Anthony Adams House will cooperate with agencies like law enforcement and the Department of Child Services when necessary, said Nelson, who understands firsthand the struggles of her future clients.

“I was a runaway, and if there had been a program like this, who knows, maybe I wouldn’t have gone through everything that I went through,” she said.

“My father was very instrumental in trying to get me to come and stay with him, trying to resolve the issues between my mother and I. But for whatever reason, it just didn’t work.

“So, that’s why I decided to name this after him. When I was going through that, he was the positive force that I needed. When kids go through that, they need to know that they are still loved. My father, he played that role.”

Anthony Adams died unexpectedly in June 2015.

Months prior, he’d told Nelson he had a gift for her, and advised her to do something special with it, as opposed to simply paying bills.

The Anthony Adams House is his legacy, she said.

Although the shelter will not be operational until at least late summer, Nelson said those in need of immediate referrals for services for homeless and runaway youth may contact her at 219-214-6505 or candice.nelson@ aa-house.org.

For more information, visit aa-house.org or “Anthony Adams House” on Facebook.

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