New home, same helping hand

Helpline is getting settled in new space seen as being much more useable for the agency.

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Volunteer Kevin Richard uses all of his appendages as he assembles an office chair at the new location for Helpline at 1520 Kelly Place. Helpline and other agencies are moving into renovated space at the newly dubbed Walla Walla County Community Service Center.

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There were boxes aplenty Tuesday as Helpline, including Executive Director Dan Willms, above, moved into its news digs and prepared to open today.

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WALLA WALLA -- Despite the chaos of early Tuesday, Dan Willms expected to be back to business as usual by this morning.

Willms, executive director of Helpline, was working out of boxes and sans desk in his corner office in the agency's new location at 1520 Kelly Place.

He and other staffers wended their way around boxes, desk chairs and filing cabinets, reassembling the place many in Walla Walla go to for help with life's basic needs, such as food, clothing and energy assistance.

Already stocked, however, was a hygiene-supply closet "three times larger" than the old one in the Helpline office on Colville Street. On the shelves sat rows of disposable diapers, tiny tubes of toothpaste and three sticks of deodorant.

The shampoo bin is in "fairly" good shape with donated travel bottles at the moment, but often reaches a critical point, the director said.

Helpline is among a number of agencies moving into the former home of Bonneville Power Administration this month. The building -- now to be officially known as Walla Walla County Community Service Center -- has been undergoing reconstruction to accommodate social service organizations such as Blue Mountain Action Council, Rising Sun Clubhouse and Blue Mountain Heart to Heart as well as Helpline.

The plan to put closely-linked services under one roof as been in place since 2007, noted Daryl Daugs, executive director of Walla Walla County's Department of Human Services. That department moved into the second story of the building in 2004.

Clients of the agencies have access via a Valley Transit but that stops at the Kelly Place address every 30 minutes.

That could present a challenge for the 25 to 30 percent of Helpline clientele that has been walking to the old location, Willms said. His office typically subsidizes more than 100 bus passes a month, at $10 each, but the grant that funded those is over. "We've never found another source."

Some clients will require training to use Walla Walla's transportation system and Valley Transit can provide that upon request, noted Rick White, operations manager for the bus company. "Some are leery of riding the bus and others just need help to know the schedule."

Fares for local bus service are comparatively low to other areas in Washington state, said Dick Fondahn, general manager of Valley Transit. One way rides are 75 cents and special needs, unlimited-ride bus passes are $10 a month.

However people arrive, they will find the same services as before, Willms said. The new kitchen has plenty of cupboards for food pantry business and there is hope of offering cooking and nutrition education there. Clothing for dispersing was already on hangers and empty shelves were waiting for loaves of bread.

He has a crew of volunteers from SonBridge Community Center in College Place to thank for being this far ahead, Willms said. "SonBridge brought a lot of transportation and people yesterday."

Volunteer Jan Alexander was ready to tackle this day with the same drive. Wrestling a balky desk drawer out for repair was at the top of her morning chore list. "I brought all my tools -- glue, hammer, nails. But I can't get the drawer out," she lamented.

The new Helpline office offers a better layout for the agency's needs. One drawback, however, is no coffee shop in easy walking distance, Willms said with a smile.

"It looks messy," he added with a look around the stacks to unpack. "But it will all come together."

Sheila Hagar can be reached at sheilahagar@wwub.com or 526-8322.

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