House of the Red Door settled in new location | SummitDaily.com
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House of the Red Door settled in new location

Byline Lu Snyder

The House with the Red Door – a nonprofit safe house

Located: At the Summit Ridge Center, across Hwy. 9 from the Breckenridge Recreation Center

Hours: Open Monday through Friday from 10 a.m. until 1 p.m., and 4 p.m. until 7 p.m.

For more information: call HRD at (970) 453-7776, or to volunteer, contact Patti Bowen at (970) 668-1592

BRECKENRIDGE – Mark Calvanese received an unfriendly welcome in Summit County. Shortly after arriving from Philadelphia last autumn, Calvanese’s car and all his belongings were stolen. The thieves took everything but his clothes, he said.

Luckily for Calvanese, he was able to turn to the House with the Red Door (HRD) for help.

The brain child of Breckenridge Father Ron Griffin, HRD is a safe house for adults ages 23 to 35. The red door originated in churches in Europe, and is common in Episcopalian churches back East. It means “safe place or sanctuary,” Griffin said. “Behind this door is a safe place.”

Which is exactly what Calvanese found there.

“They helped me get back on my feet,” he said. “They were very supportive.”

The safe house provided Calvanese with a bed, a meal and guidance – without which, “I either would have frozen to death or I would have left Breckenridge.”

Now Calvanese is a cook at the Great Divide Lodge in Breckenridge. He has only good things to say about the organization, which is now just over a year old.

“Father Ron Griffin is concerned about people in general … everybody,” Calvanese said. “What he did for me, I can never give back enough.”

Calvanese’s story is one that warms Griffin’s heart. His is only one story of the 2,000 guests who have come through the red door since the safe house opened in March 2001.

Initially, the safe house was intended to provide a hot meal and a bed for those in need, 24-hours a day, seven days a week. But by autumn, safe house officials realized they had underestimated the need, Griffin said.

“We were expecting to be busy, but we were really overwhelmed,” he said.

Thus began the organization’s “steep learning curve,” Griffin said. Now those requesting a bed are interviewed to determine need.

“The philosophy about a person staying at the house is about safety issues, not convenience,” Griffin said. “They’re in an unsafe place or they’re overwhelmed by what has happened. Let’s say someone has … hit on some really hard times. They’re a little overwhelmed with the fact that they’ve lost their job (and) they can’t go home.”

There are eight beds in the HRD, but Griffin said the most they’ve housed in a single night is five. Most young adults visit the HRD for food, guidance and networking.

“It’s been very successful,” Griffin said. “I did not know the need was as great as it is in this county.”

But the first year had its challenges, perhaps the greatest of which was the need for a new location. When the HRD first opened its doors, it was located in a unit at Two Elks Condominiums in Breckenridge. But Griffin said the homeowners association made them feel far from welcome.

The homeowners association “just kept giving us grief about being there,” Griffin said. “We needed to find a place that would be more hospitable to this kind of outreach.”

In February, the HRD moved to its new home, at the Summit Ridge Center. This time, organization benefactors purchased the building and the HDR is leasing it from them, with the intent to buy.

The new location is located close to a Summit Stage bus stop and has plenty of parking – which might be good, considering the house once saw 115 clients in a week.

Approximately 45 volunteers help make the organization a success, said HRD volunteer coordinator Patti Bowen. Some volunteers make soup, others help serve the food, and still others volunteer their time to talk with safehouse guests.

Griffin said most guests have had some college education and are “trying to figure life out.” Griffin and volunteers give them a starting place. “We tend to be facilitators for kids with deeper (issues).”

Many of the young adults who come to the HRD have alcohol or drug problems, said volunteer Joan Cooper. She has helped several determine where to get help – if they want it.

“The one story that’s still kind of in front of me is Dan Golterman,” Griffin said, of the Keystone employee who died of a drug overdose this winter. He said Golterman was very active with the safehouse when he arrived in Summit County, but stopped when he began working at Keystone last winter.

“He came back 10 days before he OD’d (in early March) and was having some very serious conversations with us. I think he was reaching out for anything he could … (but) we weren’t able to connect with him enough” to prevent his death.

Though unfortunate, Golterman’s story illustrates the need for a safe haven such as the HRD, because Griffin said there are many young adults who need guidance.

“Any questions I had … they helped answer,” Calvanese said. “They do a lot for a lot of different people.”

Griffin said one of the biggest misconceptions of the HRD is that it is a homeless shelter. He stressed that those who come are the same people who eventually will rent an apartment next door, or work at the ski areas in the ski season.

And though Griffin is a priest at the Episcopalian Church of St. John the Baptist, the HRD is not a religious organization, he said. The 45 or so volunteers come from all walks of life and religions – and they help young adults in need find food, shelter, safety and work.

Only if specifically sought out does Griffin provide spiritual guidance.

Lu Snyder can be reached at 970-668-3998 x203 or lsnyder@summitdaily.com


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