Can you imagine being a single parent and your income doesn’t pay for all of the necessities you and your family need? This month, you can just pay the rent and next month the utilities; but you gradually continue to get more and more behind on your obligations. Suddenly, you feel as if you are drowning in debt. Then, one day, it all crashes in and you are evicted with nowhere to go. In 1987, staff at Shepherd Center began noticing a large increase in situations just like this. By the time women found their way to Shepherd Center, they owed so much in back bills that there was no easy fix.
At that time, the Board of Directors began talking about options to assist those women and their families. Thanks to great efforts of community leaders like Joanne White and Polly Keller-Winter, Hope House was conceived. As fate would have it, Mrs. White was having a conversation with a former student and learned that she still owned her mother’s old home on Bolton Avenue. She donated the home so that women could have a place to stay. She told the story of her mother, Marie Murphy, who raised her children in that home. In those days, hobos rode the trains from town to town. They would often get off the train in Alexandria and search for food. Mrs. Murphy would always make sandwiches and send her children out to feed the men. She would say “never ignore an outreached hand”. How appropriate that her home would find new life helping the homeless for years to come. Hope House is forever grateful to Marie Murphy for her kindness, compassion for those less fortunate, and for her willing nature to make a difference in the lives of others.
“The Hope House mission provides hope and opportunity to those who are experiencing homelessness,” says Executive Director Sandy G. Ray. “We foster education so that participants of our programs can make informed choices in their lives. We are a hand-up program not a hand-out program. Accountability and responsibility are front and foremost along with financial education and stability as participants journey from homelessness to independence.”
Grants were written and volunteers lined up to begin working on the old home and make it a new home for 30 women and children. Volunteers cleared out the old furniture, developed plans and performed much of the work in preparation for the renovations. On January 2, 1989, Hope House accepted its first residents–a young mother with two small children. In the early days, women could stay 45 days while they made arrangements for a more permanent solution to provisions of shelter. There was no childcare program available at that time–women helped each other as they could. The training was limited and case management was the strongest tool for all of them. Volunteers from the community spoke in the evenings about topics of importance and women used their days to find work or housing. The house served as a temporary shelter for those in need.
In 1992, Hope House, as a part of Shepherd Ministries, was selected as one of President George H.W. Bush’s “Thousand Points of Light”. Following that distinction was a visit from the wife of then-Vice President Dan Quayle, Marilyn Quayle. Mrs. Quayle commended Hope House efforts to help homeless individuals become self-reliant and productive citizens
In the year 2000, Hope House became its own 501c3 nonprofit organization after the Shepherd Ministries dissolved its programs. The Shepherd Center and Hope House both became separate nonprofits. Hope House continued to operate out of the two-story dwelling that the Marie Murphy family had donated for the next 13 years. Programs and services grew to meet the demands of a growing homeless population. More educational and life skills programming was added as well as a child development and pre-k readiness program as part of the day care program. “Looking back, one of the first things I thought about when I came on board at Hope House was that I had some big shoes to fill because Wanda Ozier was an excellent leader with a history of positive outcomes,” recalls Ray. “With her blessing, I began my tenure by setting goals for the organization that were attainable through hard work and dedication.”
In 2012, Hope House began to explore a possible relocation to a larger facility. The Bolton Avenue location became a maintenance burden as the dwelling continued to age rapidly. Space became an issue for programming expansion as well, not to mention the neighborhood was a high crime area for drugs and other illegal activities. The Central Louisiana Community Foundation made an exclusive offer to Hope House to purchase a facility the Foundation owned that once served as the domestic violence shelter for the region. Hope House board and staff began raising money to purchase the facility. They had great success thanks to supporters in the community like Fran Davis, John and Bertie Smith Deming, Caroline Winter, Virginia Martin Howard Foundation, and many, many others. The acquisition of the new property was financed locally through Red River Bank and through the generosity of donor support, it was paid off within just two years and eleven months!
The facility had a large number of code issues that were costly as well. Hope House could not have completed all the necessary work needed to have a move-in facility without the proper coordination of the work to bring the facility to code. Thanks to the efforts of Mr. Cal Moody, the facility was ready to relocate all the Bolton Avenue operations and residents the week of Thanksgiving 2013. Hope House will forever be indebted to Cal and his crew for all of the hard work to bring the facility up to code and move-in ready. Often, Mr. Moody paid for labor himself. The Sheriff’s Department and Hathorn Moving helped with the move as well as several fire departments in the area. Countless volunteers helped with painting the facility and making the environment so welcoming. Board members worked, staff members worked and the volunteers from civic and church groups helped enhance the environment—talk about teamwork!
Because of the enormous efforts of Cal Moody, the board and staff created an annual “Cal’s Pals” award to recognize people who make outstanding contributions to the Hope House mission. Cal Moody was the first recipient in 2013. Cal recently passed away after a battle with cancer, but his legacy of goodwill lives on at Hope House. So does the legacy of Marie Murphy. Hope House continues to honor her efforts to help the homeless and a portrait of Marie hangs in the Hope House Lobby alongside Cal’s Pals Award recipients.
Hope House continues to receive limited funding from the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and from United Way of Central Louisiana. “Hope House has a phenomenal success rate with their clients, and their board and staff feature strong leaders who know their stuff,” explains David Britt, United Way of Central Louisiana President. “Hope House has led the way in the local nonprofit community by implementing innovative strategies such as the measurement of program outcomes and the fine-tuning of their approach to make it work even better.” Hope House also receives funds from other resources, including public and private foundations. According to incoming Board President Eric Lord, Hope House relies heavily on community support for its operations and is grateful for the wonderful support of community donations. “Building Futures Full of Hope for our residents is only possible through the generous support of the Central Louisiana Community and we are very grateful for the opportunity to do our part in ending homelessness in Central Louisiana,” says Lord.
Today, Hope House has grown. Operations are led by the Executive Director and a core staff of four others along with six part time employees. Approximately 24 board members serve three year terms. The volunteer board of directors is comprised of a cross section of the communities they served. Hope House is fortunate to have a working board bringing needed talents and skills to the mission. The board participates in fundraising activities as well as serving as the governing body of the organization. One of the annual signature fundraisers is the Hope House Lobster Dinner and Silent Auction, which has grown over the years and is recognized as one of the more popular events in the area.
Hope House serves an eight parish area in Central Louisiana. Homeless families with or without children may stay for up to two years. During their stay, residents participate in comprehensive life skills training and are provided with opportunities that empower them toward self-sufficiency. Case management remains a strong component, working with residents to develop an individualized service plan with measurable goals. Childcare is available onsite for families with children so that parents are free to work or seek employment. Transportation options are available for service related goals. Children’s services also include a Pre-K readiness program so that children are ready to learn when they enter kindergarten. Hope House has expanded its training components, including the addition of a computer lab. Tutoring is available every day for the children and cooperative agreements with partnering agencies make it possible to expose children to the arts and other cultural activities. Often, homeless children have experienced a lack of stability and continuity; Hope House helps them learn to cope with their homeless plight.
Hope House is one of three agencies in the area that comprise the region’s continuum of care (CoC) as defined by HUD. The CoC participates in the state’s coordinated assessment process to identify the homeless and prioritize the most vulnerable as they work to assist the homeless with the best possible referral for each participant. “The Central Louisiana Homeless Coalition has had a successful partnership with Hope House of Central Louisiana for many years,” explains Homeless Coalition Executive Director Kendra Gauthier. “In fact, even though the Coalition was incorporated separately, it originally operated under the umbrella of Hope House until it developed its own Board of Directors in 2006. Today, the Coalition’s partnership with Hope House includes a systematic referral process to ensure that families experiencing homelessness spend as few days as possible without shelter.” The Housing First approach is utilized as well. The CoC agencies utilize the Homeless Management and Information System (HMIS, a closed intranet system to collect data) to track homeless services and assistance in efforts to eliminate any duplication of services in the region.
Hope House is well established and recognized as a leading agency in the fight to end homelessness in our area. Hope House is also recognized as an organization that has positive outcomes. “Throughout the years, Hope House has gone above and beyond for families in order to provide opportunities for both parents and children affected by homelessness,” says Gauthier. “Through our partnership, I have witnessed countless households make lasting life changes, and it all began with a safe place to stay at Hope House. Hope House has quite literally offered hope, opportunity, and some of life’s basic needs like food and shelter over the past 30 years.” Over those three decades, Hope House has served well over 6,000 homeless individuals. The success rate of those served transitioning into their own permanent housing is high. On average, 85-94% of those served annually successfully transition into permanent housing with the skills to sustain their independence thanks to Hope House. The programs and services at Hope House are designed to educate and foster accountability and responsibility.
The Hope House staff, board and volunteers want every person served to become a productive and successful individual living in the community they call home. “When I began thinking of how Hope House had been around so many years, I realized how vastly their work had affected women who were now supporting themselves and children who were now adults who had not fallen into the same pitfalls as their mothers did,” says outgoing Board President Lynne Hyde. “I also found out that when the residents leave, they’ve formed a lifelong bond with the staff and rely on them after they leave to stay on track, figure out problems, and to receive moral support. Right now, there are so many walking around us that Hope House directly affected their lives or their friends and relatives lives that we are not aware of the struggles they went through.”
Many of those served over the years, like former resident and current Board member Jessica Maricle, give back by mentoring others who are working toward their independence at Hope House. “As a former resident of Hope House, I can attest to the program effectiveness of this wonderful mission. I took advantage of the education and opportunities provided by Hope House and graduated the program with success,” Maricle explains. “I know how devastating it is to find yourself homeless and I know how important it is to have a support network that can provide the structure you need while you work on your life goals. I am now thriving and I owe it all to Hope House.”
In 2013, Hope House was the recipient of the City of Alexandria’s Human Service Commission Award for excellence. Additionally, in 2013, Hope House was the recipient of the Better Business Bureau’s Nonprofit Torch Award. The Executive Director for the past 14 years, Sandy G. Ray, was recognized in 2014 as one of the Decades of Women, a prestigious award presented by the YWCA. “In my 14 years of serving as the Executive Director, I have witnessed many success stories evolve from the structured programs and services of Hope House,” says ray. “It is so rewarding to know that in some small way my staff and I helped those we serve come full circle with their lives.”
Hope House continues to rely on the community to help support continued growth to meet the needs of the growing homeless population. “We continue to build futures full of hope,” explains Ray, “and we could not do that without the support of Central Louisiana donors. We are very grateful for the partnerships and ‘friends in hope’ we have established over the past 30 years. Our mission has progressed with great success. I have been fortunate to work with some incredible board members over the years and they are to be commended for their service to this very worthy mission. We look forward to the future and we pledge to continue to honor our mission by making a difference in the lives of the individuals we serve.”