Rainbow House rebuilding, needs funds

By Ed Brock

The fact that a fire has temporarily closed down the Rainbow House shelter for abused and neglected children doesn't mean the shelter's staff isn't working.

Staff members like Lisa Shawver, who had worked as the shelter's cook for two and a half years, have been lending a hand in preparations for the shelter's annual "Festival of Trees and Lights."

"It's been different," Shawver said. "It's been nice being outdoors."

Set to be held this weekend at Atlanta Beach in the Clayton County International Park near Jonesboro, the festival is more important than ever in light of the Nov. 4 fire, Rainbow House Director Phil Kouns said.

Because no children are staying at the shelter it expects to lose about $50,000 in per diem reimbursements from the Department of Human Resources. And while the cleanup at the shelter had been finished by Monday, Kouns said he still didn't have the cost of the damage from the fire that destroyed a storage shed attached to the shelter's main building and causes serious smoke damage throughout the building.

"It's just an every day recovery," Kouns said. "Our goal is to be operating as soon as possible. We don't know when that will be yet."

Kouns said he hopes to have the shelter open by Christmas. Sooner will definitely be better for the Clayton County Department of Family and Children Services which has had to get waivers to increase the number of children it keeps in individual foster homes in order to house children who would ordinarily be at the shelter, said DFCS Deputy Director Chuck Fischer.

"We'll be very glad when the Rainbow House is available to us again," Fischer said. "We don't like having to disrupt children."

For the past several weeks Shawver and other staff members and volunteers have been stringing up lights on the trees and shrubs on the mile-long median that leads down to the park's artificial beach that was built during the 1996 Olympics. This is the second year for the festival and organizers like Judy Taylor of Jonesboro, who is the treasurer for Rainbow House, say it will be bigger and better than last year. And Taylor said she hopes it will grow even more.

"We want to get where families say 'Oh, it's Christmas, we need to go to The Beach,'" Taylor said.

Along with the decorations the festival, which lasts from Thursday to Sunday between 5 and 9 p.m., will have food, games, entertainment, a hayride sponsored by Clayton County Commission Chairman Crandle Bray and, of course, Santa Claus will be posing for pictures, said event organizer Mary Gersbacher.

And there will be many more decorations than last year thanks to a generous gift from brother and sister Ed Arman and Judy Kilgore of Jonesboro. Kilgore had a very large collection of Christmas displays that she no longer needed and so she donated it to the cause.

"We were so very thankful," Gersbacher said.

Admission to the park will be $5 a car and "Santa Dollars" will be sold for admission to other activities during the festival.

Also, the 12th Annual Rainbow House Telethon will be held from 3 to 10 p.m., broadcasting from Southern Regional Medical Center in Riverdale on Channel 25 on Comcast Cable. People can make donations in person or call (770) 991-8666 during the telethon.

Call Rainbow House at (770) 478-6905 or go to its Web site at www.rainbowhouseinc.org for information on making donations.