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Hearts with a Mission

Clouds of dust spilled out the front door of an old gray house on Edwards Street in Medford Tuesday as workers began transforming the dilapidated building into a shelter for homeless teens.

Hearts with a Mission, a nonprofit organization dedicated to helping homeless youth, is converting the house into a nine-bedroom shelter that will provide a secure environment for boys and girls age 10 to 17 for a few days until they can be connected with service agencies, said Kevin Lamson, the group's founder and president.

The need for a shelter is clear. The Oregon Department of Education's 2007-2008 annual homeless report identified 1,647 homeless youths in Jackson County.

The Medford City Council gave Hearts with a Mission $200,000 in federal funds from the city's community development block grant to buy the house. Lamson said building expenses and renovations to transform the home into an emergency shelter will cost an additional $395,000.

That money will come from "individual donations, foundations, corporations, and in-kind support from local businesses," according to the group's business plan.

Operating expenses will be $381,000 annually, Lamson estimated.

A crew from Rogue Valley Youthbuild was working on the demolition Tuesday. Youthbuild is a national organization that helps high-school dropouts age 16 to 25 by putting them to work in construction. Students in the nine-month program spend half their time studying to earn a high-school-equivalency certificate and half their time learning construction skills by working on community projects.

"We're demo-ing out everything down to the studs," said crew leader Layne Morell.

He said the project would take the 15-person crew about two weeks to complete.

Two crew members, John Garfield, 20, and Carmen Orozco, 17, said ripping out the interior of the old home to make a shelter for other teens is hard work for a good cause.

Garfield said he was homeless himself for more than a year.

"I was old enough to go to the Gospel Mission," he said. "But I saw a lot of younger youth out on the street. They had nowhere to stay, and nothing to eat half the time."

Orozco dropped out of Eagle Point High School last year, saying she felt ignored and out of place. Her mother insisted she enroll in Youthbuild if she didn't attend school. Seven months into the program, Orozco said she wants to build her own home some day and is ready to take her GED test now.

Lamson said using the Youthbuild workers to do the demolition work seemed like a natural fit for the youth-oriented residential care shelter.

"It's a start," he said. "We knew we had to rip everything out of here. We've got youth helping youth. What better way to show kids you care about them?"

Lamson said he is still "acting on faith" regarding the money still needed to complete the project. The organization raised more than $65,000 at its first fundraiser, and businessmen such as Jim Akery, project coordinator for R.A. Murphy Construction, have been donating services to help move the shelter project forward, Lamson said.

"We're still accepting donations," he said.

To help, contact Lamson at 541-261-2625. To learn more, visit the Web site at www.heartswithamission.org.

Reach reporter Sanne Specht at 776-4497 or e-mail sspecht@mailtribune.com.

Kyle Barney of Rogue Valley Youthbuild shovels debris from an old house on Edwards Street in Medford that eventually will become a homeless teen shelter managed by a group called Hearts with a Mission. - Jim Craven