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They Open Their Motel to the Homeless

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Tim & Nancy Nicolai

Sioux Falls, S.Dak.

Retired steelworker Tim Nicolai envisioned a quiet second act for himself and wife Nancy when they bought the Arena Motel in 2004. But just a few months later, on a frigid winter day, a woman and her daughter showed up at the front desk, with no money and nowhere else to go. “I had empty rooms,” recalls Tim, 48, “and they didn’t have a roof over their heads.”

Four years later, after converting four of the motel’s 26 rooms to family-friendly setups with hot plates and cribs, Tim and Nancy, 47, have provided free shelter to more than 100 homeless people. Staying anywhere from a few weeks to more than a year, these guests have morning coffee with Tim, who helps them comb “help wanted” ads and has hooked up several with work from friends. “I’d be on the streets if it wasn’t for them,” says 27-year-old Heather, a mom of four young children, who now works as the motel housekeeper. “They’re such caring people.”

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