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Purple walls shed new light of happiness at homeless shelter

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We have an 87 percent success rate, meaning they don’t come back here to the shelter. … It’s pretty amazing. – Kelli Parker

MIDVALE — In a labor of love, The Road Home's winter overflow shelter got an extreme makeover, complete with lilac-painted walls and lots of helping hands.

As part of an annual service project, about 130 students and faculty from the University of Utah's Master of Accounting program showed up early Wednesday to restore the shelter in preparation for winter.

The home has accommodated up to 300 people in the past, offering families a place to sleep, eat and bathe.

Since 2009, U. accounting students have teamed up with The Road Home each year to make a difference in the lives of those in need, as well as in their own lives.

"Being a mom myself, I have three children, knowing that this will be used by families this winter, it just gives me that great feeling," said Sidney Herfel, a first-year graduate student.

Teachers and students worked side by side in teams of 11, power-washing the facility, cleaning bathrooms and painting walls over the course of seven hours.

"We put people in positions where they are obviously naturally talented in, and that’s kind of helped us achieve greater efficiency. It's gone by really fast," said John Nielsen, another graduate student in the accounting program.

"We are excited to get the second coats of paint going soon," Nielsen said.

The group's efforts were especially appreciated by Kelli Parker, The Road Home volunteer coordinator.

"It's just been wonderful," Parker said. "With their help, we will be able to have this up and running for Nov. 1."

Martha Eining, director of the U.'s School of Accounting, stood right alongside students as she cleaned the bathroom. For her, the project is a chance to serve just as much as an opportunity to learn.

"It takes them way outside of their comfort zone at times, but it really does help them with their training because we divide them into teams and the students are the project managers," Eining said.

"They take on different leadership roles and learn a lot about working in groups," she said.

Parker's goal is to get people out of the shelter and into homes, which, thanks to The Road Home's Rapid Rehousing program, has resulted in some staggering results.

"We have an 87 percent success rate, meaning they don’t come back here to the shelter. … It’s pretty amazing," Parker said.

Though most families stay only temporarily, the time spent at the shelter is meant to be as comfortable as possible. Parker chose bright green, blue and purple to paint the walls in an effort to bring light and happiness to those staying there.

"As you can see, it’s pretty rundown," she said, "so they’re coming in here, putting fresh paint, deep cleaning it, getting it ready for families so when they come they can be a little happier."

Accounting program academic adviser Richard Reed summed up the day as a chance for students to realize the importance of giving back.

"When you’ve been given much or you're fortunate enough to have the kind of education that they’re getting or the kind of experience they are getting … this is part of being a professional and that is giving back," Reed said.

It's a lesson Nielsen was quick to learn and take to heart.

"Success is seen in the lives that we touch here, in the community we live in," he said. "I think that is a huge benefit, that we as students, have to give back."

Email: mcollette@deseretnews.com

Twitter: MirandaCollette