Hope. Encouragement. Shelter. Open Arms.

Jul 8, 2024

Hope. Encouragement. Shelter. Open Arms.

By Sarah Elisabeth Sawyer

“I know I need to get a job, but I don’t even know where I’m going to eat next and where I’ll sleep tonight.”

These are the overriding burdens Mark Sanderson hears over and over when he speaks with someone looking to enter the Open Arms Shelter. The people coming in are dealing with physical and mental hardships, and have nowhere to land. The shelter lifts those two crushing burdens.

The first thing Mark does is ask what their goal is, validate their homeless state, and check for their connection to Fannin County. The next thing he does is find out where they stand with God. Mark went through this process with “Jake,” who was bitter at God for the circumstances that led to his homelessness.

“While he was here, he didn’t have to worry about what he was going to eat and where he was going to sleep,” Mark says. “And I let him know it’s okay to be bitter. But don’t stop talking to God. Tell him you’re bitter. The shelter is here because God loves you, and He set this up for you and Him to be reunited.”

A month after Jake moved out, he sent an email expressing his appreciation for the Open Arms Shelter, sharing how he now had a job and a vehicle. He ended with “Praise God.”

Mark’s own life and perspectives have changed since he became director of Open Arms. He handles the system’s side of operating the nonprofit along with the heart side.

Children of the Sam Rayburn school district picked Open Arms for their "Day of Giving" emphasis in 2024.

“I thought I was going to use all of my big experience to help these poor people, but God has flipped it around and told me He was going to use the shelter to change me,” Mark says. “We witness to people in a way that blends in with our business model.”

With the support of donors, Open Arms is now constructing a new 7,500-square-foot shelter. The larger space will have a separate eating area and eliminate the need for bunkbeds which were difficult for those at the shelter to navigate. The openness also helps those with PTSD and other mental health issues, while including a private space for family accommodations. Parents or single parents with children get a quiet, separate space while they work through their situation.

One of the greatest benefits of the new building will be office spaces for several resources to work directly with those who need them most. WIC, Fannin Health Clinic, the Salvation Army, and more will have a footprint in the shelter.

“There is a direct correlation between physical and mental health, and how it affects the homeless state,” Mark says. “When physical and mental health difficulties are managed, we can lead a quality life.”

The shelter is strict on its policies and mission to help people become productive in the world. In 2023, 81% of those who left the shelter found jobs.

Funding from Texoma Health Foundation goes toward serving those in the mission. For Mark, THF is a direct resource where he can talk about planning, collaborations, and receive mentorship for operating the nonprofit. The shelter is also supported by the Fannin County Hospital Authority, numerous local businesses, churches, and individuals who donate financially and time-wise to the shelter by providing meals.

For a small county, Mark is amazed Fannin will have a new facility that would normally require years of fundraising to build debt-free.

“I think it’s all because God has led to these relationships over time,” Mark says. “He has told us, ‘You tell them about Me and I’ll help you with the rest of it.’  When I speak at churches, I let them know it’s not so much about bed and bologna sandwiches. It’s about this change and showing people in the community that they have a purpose and we do love them.”