I was inspired by a local non-profit organization that I had the pleasure of visiting. In these times of uncertainty, disappointment, greed, and ego, it is nice to be reminded that so many people do great things for people every day. Here is an article I wrote in the June/July 2017 issue of OUR TOWN magazine about a local organization called HOME OF HOPE. If you read this and feel compelled to donate- information is at the end of the article!
Home of Hope offers lasting hope to homeless mothers and their children
By Heidi Campbell
Homelessness is a sad reality for too many families in the Gwinnett County area, and there are not nearly enough programs to help all of the people impacted by rough times. According to the Georgia Department of Community Affairs, Gwinnett County has the 3rd highest total homeless population in the state of Georgia. The Gwinnett County Public Schools reported that, in May of 2016, there were over 1,900 homeless students enrolled in their school system. One program, Home of Hope at Gwinnett Children’s Shelter, works to help young, homeless mothers in the Gwinnett area. “We transition homelessness into hope,” explains Executive Director Maureen Kornowa, “and turn hope into a home. This is a program that implements lasting change.”
The Home of Hope at Gwinnett Children’s Shelter is a transitional living program for homeless children and their moms between the ages of 18-25 years of age as well as young women who have aged out of the foster care system. By providing free room and board, the program is designed to keep the family unit together and end the cycle of homelessness two generations at a time. Since June of 2014, Home of Hope at Gwinnett Children’s Shelter has transitioned thirty-seven families out of homelessness by recognizing that just because a mother is homeless doesn’t mean she doesn’t love her children. The program provides love and life skills to mothers to help them live on their own. “We tell them when they come to live here that their past doesn’t define their future,” says Kornowa. “We let them know that they can do anything and be anything, and we are going to help them get there.”
The prospective families are interviewed carefully to ensure they are a fit for the program. The interview team looks for a spark of desire- someone who is willing to do hard work and be disciplined in working the program. Kornowa explains that the plan is one of tough love, but it is also full of love. She says that while they “hold their feet to the fire”, the plan really works. “One young woman came in and wanted to be a nurse,” recalls Kornowa. “She came in as a 21-year old with three children. When she left here, she had graduated from a CNA program and was working in an assisted living community and transferred to stable housing.”
Once a family moves into the Home of Hope at Gwinnett Children’s Shelter, a stay typically lasting anywhere from three to twelve months, they are quickly set up with an apartment in one of the houses. Within 72 hours, the children are enrolled in school or daycare and the mom is set up with a life plan. Within the first thirty days, the mothers are required to secure employment, and they must save 30-50% of each paycheck, which represents their eventual rent. Case managers help the mothers with school related issues, and moms are required to attend classes on weeknights covering topics like resume building, HIV awareness, and Finance 101. While moms are learning life skills, their children attend Kids Club, where they enjoy supervised activities with volunteers from the community.
The program requires $987,000 to keep its doors open each year, which makes raising money a continuing effort. In March, they had one of their annual fundraisers, the Sip and Swine BBQ festival which is a Kansas City BBQ Society cookoff at Coolray Field. This event raised more than $50,000.00 for the charity. The President of the board of directors, Mr. Brand Morgan, hosts an annual wine auction to raise funds, and, in the fall each year, they host the “Power of One” luncheon to honor someone who gives to the community. “I like to recognize good people from other non-profits,” shares Kornowa. “It costs a candle nothing to lite another candle.”
The Home of Hope at Gwinnett Children’s Shelter is always in need of monetary donations, and Kornowa hopes to raise enough money this year to begin filling an additional twelve rooms that were recently renovated. In addition to monetary donations, they also welcome summer camp scholarships for their children, food drives, household supplies, “bed in a bag” sets, and volunteers to help with Kids Club and weekend meal donations.
The week before they opened the new program on the campus of Home of Hope at Gwinnett Children’s Shelter, Kornowa found a nest outside the front door. This nest, which actually sits on a table in her office, has become their logo which appears on brochures and signs. “We use the nest,” she explains, “because although masterfully built, nests are a transitional place to live. They are where fledglings learn how to fly before they leave the nest. It is a perfect metaphor for what we do here.”
Visit www.homeofhopegcs.org to make a donation or to learn more about this worthy non-profit organization. Help them make a difference for another young family.