When most people see trouble, they run in the opposite direction. But in the face of the coronavirus pandemic, Beth Kempf made a conscious sacrifice for the betterment of other people.
Whereas most during this pandemic are able to work from the comfort of their living rooms, Kempf, the executive director of the Community CARES emergency shelter in Carlisle, left house and home to spend 57 days as a full-time shelter employee away from her family.
CARES, which normally coordinates sheltering the Cumberland County region’s homeless population at multiple area churches and charitable organizations, encountered difficulty in April with COVID-19 guidelines suggesting that homeless clients should be in one place, according to the borough.
The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommended that clients at shelters be screened at a central point for COVID-19 symptoms to avoid outbreaks among the homeless.
After working out a deal with Carlisle Borough, Community CARES housed as many as 50 homeless people a night at the Stuart Community Center, which had been closed due to the pandemic, from early April through July.
Kempf, 49, knew she could not stay home and leave the people she served to fend for themselves.
“Listen, I know there’s a risk, but I can’t keep coming home and exposing my husband to it,” Kempf said.
At the same time, she could not just shut down the program and abandon those she promised to serve but didn't want to put her employees at risk. So, she decided to pack her bags and shelter with those she served.
“It’s the right thing, right? These people needed help and I had already committed to them that’s what we would do for them,” Kempf said.
As the shelter’s executive director, Kempf is responsible for programming and funding. But now, she stays with the group 24/7 and travels between the shelters and the administrative building.
“It’s strange. I remember the first day I was able to leave here. Everything felt surreal. It gave me some understanding for what the people we work with go through,” Kempf said.
Despite the uneasy circumstances, not one person in the program has gotten sick, Kempf said. Many at the center have been tested, but so far, the center is clear of the pandemic. Kempf credits this to how well the residents took care of themselves and each other.
“They were really pulling together and being part of the solution for themselves,” Kempf said.
Kempf said homelessness does not end during a pandemic. In fact, it tends to exacerbate problems. The business shutdowns have prevented people who are homeless from accessing basic utilities such as showers and bathrooms, which are necessary for personal hygiene during a pandemic. However, CARES began using the Stuart Community Center at 50 W. Penn St. to provide for the people they help.
Kempf, who has been the director of CARES since 2018, hopes her efforts inspire others to see the best in people regardless of their station.
“All people have value. I wanted everyone to remember no matter what’s going on, they’re worth some kind of sacrifice,” Kempf said. “Where others would say ‘no thank you,’ we say ‘we welcome you.’ That’s the beauty of what I do. I get to be a consistent presence for some people.”
It might be tough for others to accept and provide care for people facing homelessness. But one factor Kempf relies on is her faith.
“I choose to see myself; I choose to see they were designed for a purpose and that they have every right to figure out what that purpose is,” Kempf said.
Kempf said God has been significant in transforming her world.
“Like a lot of people, I was a messed up teenager, a teenage mom, a suicidal person; and the lord changed my life,” Kempf said.
Despite her efforts, Kempf remains humble about her role.
“This is a larger effort than Beth,” she said. “I just happen to be able to put myself in this position for this season. Everyday, the staff do that. Everyday the volunteers do that.”
Anyone experiencing housing insecurity can call 211 for an assessment and referral. Alternatively, they can contact Kempf at the CARES phone, and press 3 to redirect to her cellphone.
Q&A with Beth Kempf
- Executive director of Community CARES .
How many years at your current job:
- Since 2018.
Hometown (where you live now):
- Boiling Springs.
What do you like best about what you do?
I like being around our clients and our staff and our volunteers. Really it’s not work when you’re doing what you love, right?
What is the toughest challenge you face as part of your job during this pandemic?
The toughest challenge was securing a safe location for everybody.
Something you would like the public to know about what you do?
Every life is worth investing in. And, in order to continue to do what we do, we have to secure a permanent site. I work with the best people ever. Somehow, make a very big deal about the people who work and volunteer here.
What’s your proudest accomplishment?
My family. And, each time I see a life changed. When I see someone that is at a low point and they can’t see for themselves a future, to be able to help them identify the first step toward a future and seeing them walk it out and accomplish some sense of completion with that. Seeing people be able to identify themselves by their future, not their past, is a beautiful thing.
What goals do you have in your field of service?
Obviously for us, we are looking to hone and build our outreach program and build our homeless prevention funds. Also, to build a permanent location for the shelter so we can continue to build lasting impacts on people’s lives. We are always looking for ways to set people free from this life of uncertainty.
“All people have value. I wanted everyone to remember no matter what’s going on, they’re worth some kind of sacrifice.” — Beth Kempf