Loring Henderson is a special individual who has done much to help make Lawrence a better community.
Last week, Henderson announced he would be retiring as executive director of the Lawrence Community Shelter. No one is indispensable, but he will be extremely difficult to replace.
The Lawrence native has done a superb job in his work with the homeless and disabled in Washington, D.C., Kansas City and Lawrence. He moved back to Lawrence in 1993 and became deeply involved in Lawrence’s Open Shelter and, later, the Lawrence Community Shelter.
By his example and tireless work, the low-key highly effective and committed Henderson led the effort that eventually resulted in moving the shelter from its downtown location to a site on the southeast corner of the city, near the Douglas County Jail.
It is a much larger and much better facility, with Henderson and a number of committed board members doing an excellent job of raising private funds to help acquire, remodel and furnish the large building.
Encouraging individuals to be generous in their fiscal support for the shelter is not a popular or easy task, and a good number of donors made it clear it was Henderson’s involvement and his personal hands-on role that was the key factor in their decision to support the project.
Henderson’s role and involvement has not been 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., five days a week. Generally he has been on call 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 52 weeks a year. That is the reason the Lawrence shelter has been such a success, a model for other cities to try to match. It should be noted that both city and county government also have played an important role in supporting the shelter and facilitating its move to a new location.
Several of those who have been supportive of the shelter point out that homelessness is likely to be with us for years to come, in Lawrence as well as in most cities. If that’s the case, why not have Lawrence be a leader and develop a facility and program that can help and encourage those it serves to become more self-reliant?
Henderson’s leadership and commitment to the homeless challenge has benefited Lawrence in many ways, and his record of performance will serve as a valuable guideline when interviewing and selecting his successor.