Citizens give back in light of holidays

A local organization raised more than $30,000 Thursday at a benefit party in Champaign on behalf of a local shelter that helps at–risk youths.

With a guest list of approximately 200, supporters of the Roundhouse Youth Shelter gathered at the atrium of Illini Plaza in Champaign, to socialize with fellow supporters and to bid on various items.

The event was organized by Friends of Roundhouse, an organization of about 35 local women that raises money throughout the year for the shelter in Champaign. Roundhouse Youth Shelter is a temporary homeless shelter that provides counseling and services for homeless teenagers and runaways, or teenagers who are at risk of becoming homeless or running away.

With volumes of garland, red bows, the Grinch and Santa Clause outside as doormen, the theme was the “Night Before Christmas,” but members said it was about more than meeting with friends.

Although the shelter is funded by the U.S Department of Health and Human Services, Christie Ramshaw, president of Friends of Roundhouse, said this year’s fundraiser was especially important for the shelter.

“They’ve cut our funding, the state has, and we have to do this to make up for that loss,” Ramshaw said.

The shelter is available to youths between the ages of 11 and 17, said Lisa Benson, director of residential services for Roundhouse, but it also serves local mothers up to the age of 20.

“We help these mothers to make sure they are staying up with their education and to give them counseling to deal with the issues that brought them to the shelter in the first place,” Benson said.

Ramshaw said she has been preparing for the benefit for six months.

“In the past we have done a couple events throughout the year, but this year we decided to combine them into one big event,” Ramshaw said.

Sheila Ferguson, CEO of the Mental Health Center of Champaign County, addressed the party before the auction began.

“The motto for tonight is, ‘Don’t be a Grinch; Help out the children of Roundhouse,’” she said.

Supporters responded to her message when gift certificates, Christmas wreaths and bottles of wine were all auctioned off. Some bids surpassed $1,000.

Money raised in the past by Friends of Roundhouse has been used to make improvements to the shelter and to provide its residents with things such as clothing and Christmas gifts, Benson said.

“It’s not just social,” said Susan Meacham, member of Friends of Roundhouse. “You really feel like you make a difference.”