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St. Francis House Looks For A New Executive Director

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St. Francis House Executive Director, Kent Vann, stepped down after 17 years in the position to focus on his health and spend time with family.

As the weather cools down and the closure of Dignity Village looms overhead, the shelter is focused on taking care of those in need, while also trying to fill the newly open position.

St. Francis House typically shelters 35 people, opening its doors for anyone in need to have a warm meal. On colder nights, the facility transforms the dining area into extra sleeping space.

Interim director Rita Lawrence reads a motivational quote in her case manager office at St. Francis House. (Brooke Garrison/WUFT News)

Rita Lawrence, St. Francis interim executive director, said, “Cold weather nights allows us to open up our dining room to those in need. It’s just floor space, but we have some mats and blankets they can lie down on. We had about 20 people seek shelter Tuesday because of the cold.”

Lawrence hopes she can live up to the standards set by Vann.

“I think he had faith that I could do the job, and the board agreed with him and asked me the day after he had resigned,” Lawrence said.

Al Cockrell, president of St. Francis House board of trustees, said Lawrence is doing a great job as interim director while still maintain her duties as case manager for the shelter.

Interim director Rita Lawrence still works in her case manager office while fulfilling both positions. (Brooke Garrison/WUFT News)

Lawrence has 11 years of experience working for the shelter in different roles. She began working for St. Francis House as a grant writer in 2008. Later, she became a full-time case manager for St. Francis.

“Kent has set a huge tradition of St. Francis house being giving in Gainesville, holding to its mission, and I feel like those are big shoes to fill, but that’s my goal, to do that while I’m here,” Lawrence said.

Cockrell said there will be a more active search for a permanent executive director in 2020 after the holidays.

Until that person is hired, Lawrence is working on grant applications, donations, maintenance and daily meals while ensuring the shelter is prepared for winter.

By Jan. 1, 2020, all residents living in Dignity Village must be relocated. Now, Lawrence and her team at St. Francis House are working to help those who will be displaced.

“We have seen an uptick in the number of people we are serving for our lunches,” Lawrence said. “It’s moved from about 60 every day to about 90, so we are increasing capacity. We are well equipped to handle them.”

St. Francis House often assists families, so it will not be able to provide shelter to everyone coming from Dignity Village.

“We are well equipped to adjust to this capacity thanks to the support of community food donations,” she said. “However, we are also actively collecting winter clothing items for adults and children to assist those in need this season.”

As for the new executive director, Lawrence is not involved in the hiring process, as she has submitted an application for the permanent position.

About Maggie DesRosiers

Maggie is a reporter for WUFT News who can be reached by calling 352-392-6397 or emailing news@wuft.org.

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