ACCESS shelter flourishes after 40 years with help from area volunteers – Hudson students among critical service pool

by Emily Canning-Dean

For the last four decades, ACCESS Shelter in Akron has helped women and children who face homelessness, and local volunteers have been instrumental in helping them to continue that mission.

“We are so proud of the last 40 years of work in our community, but I am also so excited to look toward the future with ACCESS,” said Executive Director Jackie Hemsworth, a resident of Bath. “We know there is still so much to be done to support women and children experiencing homelessness, and ACCESS has plans to be on the forefront in addressing these needs with additional services and space.”

ACCESS was formed in 1984 as part of a grassroots effort following an Akron Catholic Commission survey that discovered there was a lack of shelter beds, especially for women and women with children experiencing homelessness.

The original ACCESS shelter opened in the former convent buildings of St. Bernard’s Church. It outgrew that space, however, and moved to the current facility on West Market Street in 1996.

The West Market location increased availability of the shelter by 43%, organizers said. The 15-room facility includes a kitchen and dining room where residents are served three meals a day, a lounge where residents can decompress, a playroom for children and a health clinic.

Hinckley resident Dr. Deborah Plate, who is a physician with Cleveland Clinic in Akron, serves on the ACCESS board of directors. Before joining the board, however, Plate was involved with creating and running the shelter’s clinic, which is a collaboration with the University of Akron nursing program. Plate said onsite medical services are unique as many shelters do not have clinics.

“Not only do the women and children get the health care they need, but if there are acute health care concerns, we can get appointments for them with doctors at the Cleveland Clinic,” Plate said. “Things have changed a lot since we first got started. Because of the Affordable Care Act, a lot more of the residents have health insurance now.”

Plate added that resident physicians from the Cleveland Clinic spend time at the shelter offering programs like blood pressure clinics as well as educational events on a monthly basis.

Plate also fondly recalls she and other volunteers serving as “elves” and showing up to the shelter early on Christmas morning to distribute gifts to the children.

“My husband is an excellent cook, and he would make breakfast for the ladies and the children and then we would have fun Christmas activities,” she said.

Plate is proud to boast that ACCESS finds permanent housing for about 66% of its clients, which is higher than the national average. Over the last 40 years, the organization has served more than 23,000 residents on their journey toward attaining permanent housing.

Hudson Service Learning students

And for the last 25 years or so, Hudson High School students have been part of that mission through a service learning program that serves as a 12th grade elective. Students placed at the shelter have taken care of children, helped with fundraising and donations and organized and implemented programming.

“We typically have one to two Hudson students per semester,” Hemsworth said. “They truly make a difference in helping to expand the capacity of an organization with a small staff of only 25 employees. Every set of hands is a big help. In turn, the students are able to see behind the scenes of what it takes to make a shelter run. This may be valuing donations that come in or sitting at our front desk, helping residents and visitors or helping in our playroom with children who live in the shelter.”

Anyone who wants to learn more about ACCESS and their 40 years of service to the Akron area can visit ∞

Photo: 2023 graduate Lauren Fisher, pictured with ACCESS Shelter donations coordinator Melanie Mitchell, is one of many Hudson High School students who have volunteered at the shelter as part of the school’s service learning program. Photo submitted.