By Nathan Pilling
XENIA — Earlier this year Bill Mallernee received an unexpected call, one that appears poised to expand how homeless families are served in Greene County. Mallernee, director of the Interfaith Hospitality Network of Greene County, a local temporary homeless shelter, was likely more than a little surprised at the words he heard next.
“I would like to donate a building,” the words came from the phone.
When he heard those words, Mallernee didn’t know exactly what to say.
“It was one of those things that it doesn’t happen every day,” he said later. “It was a pretty amazing phone call to receive.”
That structure, which is wedged in on the corner of where Xenia’s West Second Street and Bellbrook Avenue meet, is an unassuming, simple building with a beige exterior and brown shingles. It’s the sort of building one drives past without noticing if one isn’t looking for it.
A few months, phone calls, board meetings and discussions later, that building belongs to IHN, and Mallernee is standing inside one of its hallways talking about the organization’s vision for how it might be used.
“There’s a lot of opportunities,” he says as he elaborates about the possibility of using the building for follow-up classes for previous clients of the shelter.
In that hallway it’s cool, the feel of a building that isn’t being heated for regular use. A look around the building’s interior confirms that fact: exposed wall studs, unfinished walls and floors, extension cords and ladders all mark the rooms inside the building.
It’s clear that the building is in transition. It’s not ready quite yet.
Soon it will be.
Just a few months ago, the building at 101 Bellbrook Ave. was an office for a combined dental and medical practice office for Drs. Manoj and Priya Desai. When the husband-wife team decided to retire, they elected to donate the building back to the community that welcomed their family when they first came to Xenia.
Manoj said the idea of donating the building to IHN came after he saw a man sleeping outside near the office. That scene gave him inspiration: “I saw this man sleeping, I said, ‘Maybe people like this need this office more than I do,’” he said.
It was this thought that led to his call to Mallernee and IHN and eventually to the donation.
“We do believe that we have to give back in the community,” Manoj said. “… We are very, very blessed, and we are very happy with what is happening with this building.”
Once the work is completed inside, that building will primarily be devoted to education and counseling classes for both the network’s clients and volunteers. IHN already hosts financial, parenting and life skills-related classes for individuals staying at its current site in Xenia, but the new building will provide a dedicated location for those classes, as well as for more storage space and expanded volunteer training.
At IHN’s current facility, the Schneider House of Hope, the only place where the center could hold educational classes for clients is in its dining hall, which sits in a major thoroughfare in the center.
“There’s phones ringing, there’s kids right there, donations coming in, all kinds of things going on during a class,” Mallernee said.
The new building will provide a quiet, off-site setting for expanded education and training.
“We try to give them seeds of new thought, new tools if you will, so they never have to be homeless again,” Mallernee said. “I tell them once they get out of here I never want to see them again ‘til they’re ready to volunteer.
“That’s not because I don’t love them, it’s because I want them to be equipped to keep that place and not just get a house, but keep it, so they don’t have to be homeless again. That’s what I see here, is a bigger, broader opportunity to plant some seeds and maybe to do a little bit more follow up and kind of nurture those seeds so they do develop.”
For Mallernee and IHN, the new building represents opportunity, a chance to expand the ministry’s offerings and help the Greene County community.
“I see a lot of possibilities,” Mallernee said. “We didn’t solicit this building. It came to us. I think there’s going to be some good things, if you will, some God things, that are going to happen here.”
“There’s phones ringing, there’s kids right there, donations coming in, all kinds of things going on during a class,” Bill Mallernee said of the space where classes currently meet.
Mallernee, director of the Interfaith Hospitality Network of Greene County, stands in that space.
IHN’s new building sits on Xenia’s West Second Street and Bellbrook Avenue.