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McKenna House remembers former residents, celebrates shelter’s makeover

  • Wayne and Terry Mills, parents of Brandon Mills who passed away recently, attended a cookout and ceremony at the Edna McKenna House in Concord, which recently finished renovations after receiving a $225,000 grant. Residents, staff and members of the Salvation Army met at the house on Wednesday evening, June 5, 2013, to celebrate the remodeling and the creation of a memorial garden for three residents, including Mills, who recently passed away.<br/><br/>(JOHN TULLY / Monitor staff)

    Wayne and Terry Mills, parents of Brandon Mills who passed away recently, attended a cookout and ceremony at the Edna McKenna House in Concord, which recently finished renovations after receiving a $225,000 grant. Residents, staff and members of the Salvation Army met at the house on Wednesday evening, June 5, 2013, to celebrate the remodeling and the creation of a memorial garden for three residents, including Mills, who recently passed away.

    (JOHN TULLY / Monitor staff) Purchase photo reprints at PhotoExtra »

  • From left, Jan Karp, Annie Wilcox, Kevin Giera, Frank (last name witheld upon request) and Adam Goodwin, friends or residents at the Edna McKenna House in Concord, visit during an event to celebrate the house's recently finished renovations after receiving a $225,000 grant. Residents, staff and members of the Salvation Army met at the house on Wednesday evening, June 5, 2013, to celebrate the remodeling and the creation of a memorial garden for three residents who recently passed away.<br/><br/>(JOHN TULLY / Monitor staff)

    From left, Jan Karp, Annie Wilcox, Kevin Giera, Frank (last name witheld upon request) and Adam Goodwin, friends or residents at the Edna McKenna House in Concord, visit during an event to celebrate the house's recently finished renovations after receiving a $225,000 grant. Residents, staff and members of the Salvation Army met at the house on Wednesday evening, June 5, 2013, to celebrate the remodeling and the creation of a memorial garden for three residents who recently passed away.

    (JOHN TULLY / Monitor staff) Purchase photo reprints at PhotoExtra »

  • Wayne and Terry Mills, parents of Brandon Mills who passed away recently, attended a cookout and ceremony at the Edna McKenna House in Concord, which recently finished renovations after receiving a $225,000 grant. Residents, staff and members of the Salvation Army met at the house on Wednesday evening, June 5, 2013, to celebrate the remodeling and the creation of a memorial garden for three residents, including Mills, who recently passed away.<br/><br/>(JOHN TULLY / Monitor staff)
  • From left, Jan Karp, Annie Wilcox, Kevin Giera, Frank (last name witheld upon request) and Adam Goodwin, friends or residents at the Edna McKenna House in Concord, visit during an event to celebrate the house's recently finished renovations after receiving a $225,000 grant. Residents, staff and members of the Salvation Army met at the house on Wednesday evening, June 5, 2013, to celebrate the remodeling and the creation of a memorial garden for three residents who recently passed away.<br/><br/>(JOHN TULLY / Monitor staff)

When Brandon Mills and Bob Richard died, their families suggested mourners remember them with a donation to the Salvation Army’s McKenna House, a Concord homeless shelter both young men had used. The requests have ensured neither man will be forgotten.

McKenna House used the money to create a memorial garden in memory of Mills, 25, and Richard, 20, that their families saw for the first time last night.

“We didn’t know it, but he touched a lot of hearts here,” said Michael Mason, Richard’s grandfather.

Richard, who was from Pembroke, was found floating in the Merrimack River in April 2012, nearly three weeks after he went missing.

Mills, of Dunbarton, died in April of this year and had lived at McKenna House a couple of times, his parents, Wayne and Terry Mills, said. A stone with their son’s name painted on it now sits next to one painted with Richard’s name.

“I knew this is a very worthwhile cause, and McKenna House helped our son,” said Wayne Mills. “There are a lot of causes, and this one was dear to our hearts.”

The memorial garden, which also includes a granite bench provided by Swenson Granite Works, is part of a larger McKenna House makeover that staff and residents celebrated last night.

Shelter Director Lorrie Dale used a $225,000 grant from the Community Development Finance Authority and an equivalent amount of

in-kind donations to replace the siding, windows, furnace and flooring.

The once dirt-floor basement is now a finished activity room for music and art therapy and other group activities. The living space for men and women has also been freshened up with new paint and improved bathrooms. The energy improvements will reduce the amount the shelter spends to heat the facility, Dale said.

It’s the biggest improvement to McKenna House since Dale became manager seven years ago. And even as residents were putting the final touches on the house yesterday morning, Dale was talking about what she hopes to do with the next grant: expand from 19 to 39 beds for men and from seven to 17 beds for women.

The space is desperately needed, she said.

McKenna House, which is on South Fruit Street, provided shelter to 238 people last year. The shelter turns away about 10 people a day because it rarely has free beds, she said.

Residents typically stay from three to six months, paying $10 a day or completing 20 hours a week in community service. They can volunteer their time at the shelter or at a nonprofit in the community. Dale said 99 percent opt to volunteer.

Convicted sex offenders are not allowed to stay because of the shelter’s close proximity to day cares and schools. Residents must remain drug-and-alcohol free to keep their bed.

Dale considers herself more of a mother to the 26 residents than a shelter director.

It wasn’t the job she envisioned for herself before she took the position seven years ago. Dale spent 28 years as a dental assistant and had never been in a shelter when her minister at the Salvation Army asked her to take on McKenna House. It meant a big pay cut just as she was thinking about college bills for her daughter.

“I thought God has a bigger plan for me, but I thought it was going to be teaching Sunday School,” she said. “I kept saying, ‘No, no, no,’ and God kept saying, ‘Yes, yes, yes,’ ” Dale added. “I say God puts you (at the shelter) for a reason. For you to come into someone’s life. Or for them to enter into your life.”

Dale said that’s the philosophy she brings to her shelter work each day: “I wouldn’t change it in a heartbeat.”

Last night, the families of Mills and Richard got their first tours of McKenna House. Bette Mason, Richard’s grandmother, said she left knowing more people loved her grandson than she could have imagined.

Richard’s mother was working and couldn’t attend last night. Mason said his mother is going to visit the memorial garden later and leave some of Richard’s ashes under the rock bearing his name.

(Annmarie Timmins can be reached at 369-3323,
atimmins@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @annmarietimmins.)

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