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Matt Fearson, Mike Palm and Rachelle Fearson

Baraboo Mayor Mike Palm, center, presents a Gem Award to Matt and Rachelle Fearson during Tuesday's Common Council meeting.

Ministers who started a Baraboo homeless shelter received a parting gift Tuesday in the form of a Gem Award.

Matt and Rachelle Fearson are relocating to Arizona after spending the past 15 years in Baraboo, where they started Hope Through Christ Ministries at the former Parkway Wesleyan Church.

On Tuesday, Mayor Mike Palm handed the couple a Gem Award for making Baraboo a better place to live.

“The city of Baraboo extends its heartfelt gratitude and appreciation to Matt and Rachelle for their commitment to our fair city,” Palm said in reading a proclamation honoring the Fearsons.

The couple began renting the church on Parkway in 2003, and bought it three years later. Seeing a need to minister to the homeless, the Fearsons opened a shelter in the church’s lower level in 2011. With community support, the shelter provided food, clothing, housing and mentoring to get people back on their feet.

“It sure has been a pleasure being here in Baraboo,” Rachelle Fearson told the Common Council, “and really working with everybody. It’s been a privilege being able to work with the homeless.”

The shelter has served hundreds, helping them survive the winter. About 75 percent of visitors have found permanent homes.

“It’s nothing that I did, it’s the Lord that did this, so I accept this on his behalf,” Matt Fearson told the council. “I’m gonna miss y’all.”

The Fearsons are moving to Arizona in October to be closer to family and to ease Rachelle’s breathing problems. They’ve put the church and their home up for sale. Church and community leaders are meeting in hopes of finding a way to continue the warming shelter’s mission as winter nears.

Follow Ben Bromley on Twitter @ben_bromley or call him at 745-3507.