More than 8,000 visits were made to the house near the corner of 11th and Pennsylvania streets last year by people seeking necessities such as food, clothing and medicine or just a friend to chat with.
Penn House, an organization supported by the United Way of Douglas County, is a nonprofit social service agency whose purpose is to help low-income families, people living on Social Security or welfare, and those who are homeless.
"I think the best thing about Penn House is that most of the people working here have been there," said Linda Lassen, agency director.
When Lassen started at Penn House 25 years ago, she was on welfare, a single mother of two. Now as director, Lassen finds that her "family" has expanded. At Penn House, people not only get help filling a prescription or paying a utility bill, they also find a friend.
"I always tell them when they leave here `Please check with me, keep me in touch with what's going on in your life ...' and they do," Lassen said.
Eleda Elston, secretary at Penn House, thinks that clients find the house welcoming because the people working at Penn House know that things can get tough.
"We've all been where somebody's at right now so we can understand," Elston said. "It makes them feel more comfortable coming in and talking to a plain Jane that's been there."
One of the services provided by Penn House is its emergency medical program, which helps clients get prescription medicine and necessary dental work and medical appointments.
The medical program is funded by private donations. But Penn House's budget for all other activities and its four employees is provided by the United Way. Its 1996 allocation from the current United Way drive will be $59,288.
Penn House currently is working on a project called Medical Plus in association with the Woodlands racetrack. If it is successful, Penn House may be able to give its clients higher-priced medical supplies and equipment, such as breathing machines, wheelchairs and hospital beds.
Now there is barely enough money to cover the cost of prescriptions, Lassen said.
This time of year is the busiest for Penn House. As the holidays approach, its staff is gearing up for its Christmas adoption program.
Members of the community can adopt a low-income family. They agree to buy an item of new clothing for every member of the adopted family, a toy for every child, and Christmas dinner ingredients or a gift certificate to a grocery store.
Penn House's main objective is to get people back on their feet.
"Our goal is for people to help themselves," Lassen said.