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Travelers who find themselves lost, stranded or without resources in an airport, bus station or train depot can always find a friend: Hundreds of volunteers for 60 Travelers Aid agencies nationwide faithfully man desks to provide information, assistance and referral.

Wednesday morning, Salt Lake's Travelers Aid Society held its annual meeting to honor volunteers and celebrate its successes in 1989 - a year when 2.2 million nationwide received on-spot assistance in transportation centers.Besides assisting travelers, Salt Lake's agency operates the shelters for homeless single men, families and women.

"Salt Lake has been a model of community cooperation, community fund raising and community support," said Danny C. Kelly, president of the national organization and past president of the local chapter.

Michael Steele, treasurer, said 31 percent of the shelter's budget comes from contributions, which is a "blessing and a curse, because each year you hope that everyone who contributed to Travelers Aid comes through again." In 1984, when Steele took over accounting for the shelter, 5 percent of funding was from donations and the amount has risen steadily since.

The men's shelter, designed to hold up to 210 men, has consistently had 260 to 360 a day since it opened, according to Linda Hulme, director. In 1989, 8,000 single men received services that included counseling, shelter, medical and mental health care, employment assistance and use of facilities like the shower and laundry. Forty percent of the homeless men who receive help from the Employment, Resource and Training Center at the shelter are not staying in the facility.

The family shelter was a temporary home to 316 different families last year. Of those, about 180 moved into housing in the community with help from case managers who provided support.

Travelers Aid goes back to 1851, when the mayor of St. Louis got people together to assist settlers moving west. By 1905, Kelly said, similar groups had sprung up around the country to help stranded and needy people. At that time, Grace Dodge linked them into one agency that would be operated by volunteers. Fifteen years later, Travelers Aid adopted the casework model still in use today. Utah formed an agency in 1923.

Local societies focus on the community needs. In Utah, the agency helped stragglers, refugees and others as situations arose. Utah's group, today, is best known for its work with the homeless. In Alabama, Travelers Aid transports the elderly to doctors and other appointments.

Almost 90 percent of the people served nationwide live at or below the poverty line and face problems like homelessness and unemployment, frequently compounded by domestic violence, substance abuse and mental illness. Two-thirds of the time, Travelers Aid refers people to more appropriate resources.

"I'm proud to be part of an organization that's available 24 hours a day," said Rob Perry, president. "Over 4,000 individuals stranded in Salt Lake have been given the opportunity to move on (through the Emergency Assistance Program). And in this room, all political and theological lines are crossed." He said the agency would fold without the huge effort put forth by volunteers. "There isn't anybody else to do the work."


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Volunteers honored

During its annual meeting, the Travelers Aid Society of Salt Lake City presented awards of appreciation to some of the key volunteers who have kept the group going.

Irene Perry and Lola Wilson were each honored for 10 years service.

Those recognized for outstanding service included Scott Christiansen, Mary Jones, John Kohning, Elaine Kelly, Carl Merseal, Merlin Ronneburg and Harold Peterson.

Outstanding community support honorees were Maun Alston, Department of Social Services and chairwoman of the Utah State Homeless Coordinating Committee; Jeff Johnson, a loan executive from LDS Church Social Services; David Fowers, Lowell Bennion Community Service Center; Helen Bero, Junior League of Salt Lake City; and Mable Lane and Betty Wheeler, volunteers in the Foster Grandparent program, sponsored by Salt Lake County Aging Services.