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Ephrata Homes of Hope celebrates 10 years of helping
Homes of Hope is celebrating ten years as a faith-based transitional housing ministry for the Ephrata-Akron area, under the umbrella of Love in the Name of Christ (Love, INC.), Lancaster.
“This ministry is ten years old, and possibly eleven, if you count the more than half dozen dialogue and planning meetings held during 2003,” said the Rev. Jim Amtstutz during a recent interview in his office at Akron Mennonite Church. When officers were elected at the Sept. 30, 2004, organizational meeting, Amstutz was elected president.
Throughout a two year organizational period, Amstutz coordinated steering committee meetings which dealt with issues such as fundraising, securing of partnership agreements and property options.
Who needs transitional housing? It could be a single parent or mother or father caring for children due to a divorce or death of a spouse. It could be an intact family who loses their source of income due to being laid off, having high health costs or another catastrophic event.
“About 80 percent of homeless people are termed ‘situational’ homeless,” explained Amstutz. “Their marriage broke up or they lost their employment. Since the recession of 2008, the numbers of homeless sky-rocketed.”
“Only about 10 percent of homeless people are what are termed “street” homeless. Many of these people have drug, alcohol or mental health related issues.
Clarifying the need for transitional housing and providing the inspiration to address the issue was Tom Swalwell, director of Ephrata Area Social Services (EASS), at a local ministerium meeting in 2002.
In May 2003, 11 people, including Swalwell and Kent Douple from EASS, held the first meeting to address transitional housing at Akron Mennonite Church.
Included in the above meeting was Rita Foster, the first social worker for Ephrata Area School District.
“School social workers are one of our biggest referral services,” said Amstutz.
The first organizational committee included 12 people and met at Ephrata United Zion Church. In addition to Amstutz, other positions included: Secretary Barry Kreider from Pilgrims Mennonite; Mentor Coordinator Kent Douple; Furniture Coordinator Rod Charlesowrth; Inventory Bea Strenger and Becky Hartranft; Real Estate Dave Weaver and later added was Cleaning Kathleen Yoder. At large members included: Nicole Hess, Ephrata Area School District Social Worker; Tom Swalwell, EASS; Terri Miller/Suzie Wenger, Love, INC; and Elaine Rutter/Tammy Martin, Tabor Community Services.
The organization committee agreed that finances and policy decisions would be held by Love Inc. The program coordinator, based at LOVE Inc., Lancaster, is Beth Crosby, the only paid person for Homes of Hope. Everyone else volunteers their time. Volunteer mentors receive training. If volunteers desire to be budget coaches, additional training is offered to them.
By Dec. 21, 2004, a year-and-a-half after the first Homes of Hope meeting, the first family was placed in a house in Akron owned by Akron Church of the Brethren. A second home was made available by Ephrata Church of the Brethren. That home was renovated into two residential units. This home, formerly a men’s boarding house, was donated to the Ephrata COB by the late Quint Eiseman and his wife, Millie.
Millie checks in with families residing in the home and often welcomes them with a baked treat.
Ephrata Area Homes of Hope does not own any property. Today, three apartments, all located in Ephrata, are rented to families.
Phyllis Peters, a member of the Homes of Hope Executive Committee and a mentor and budget coach C=coordinator, explained that families meet weekly with their mentors. The families must take the initiative to make any contacts suggested to them during the mentor meetings. Mentors are “guides” to help answer questions and provide a stabilizing influence as families do the hard work of improving their economic position.
“We mentors,” says veteran mentor Gloria Shober, “are always impressed by the heavy daily load of responsibility many single parents carry. They work full-time, raise children and stretch their limited financial resources to meet so many needs. Many times transportation is an issue because families do not have a car, don’t have a reliable one or don’t have a driver’s license.”
“Those families who work with budget coaches commit to a budget process and learn basic budgeting procedures that will help them throughout their lives,” added Shober.
Peters noted that families selected must: 1) show that they are employed; 2) pay a monthly rent and 3) commit to following all the rules and regulations of Homes of Hope.
Amstutz has been the hard working “face” of Homes of Hope in Ephrata from its inception. He will transition to serving the homeless in a new role as co-director for the Lancaster County Coalition for Homeless.
“We have been blessed with excellent support from our 13 partner churches and many generous individuals and businesses,” said Amstutz. We have not had to use our energies for lots of fundraisers.
“Until 2013, the church’s contributions always provided enough to meet our needs,” explained Peters. “We did a fundraiser at Isaac’s. It was successful so Homes of Hope will do this again in June.”
Taking the job that Amstutz filled for over a decade with Homes of Hope is the Rev. Joe Hyatt, from New Beginnings Church, which meets in the former Donecker’s Store building.
What’s in store for Homes of Hope in the future?
Swalwell stated, “It certainly has a firm foundation. The approach was done the right way with engaging all the churches, having regular meetings and looking for opportunities to expand within our financial boundaries.”
“We looked for a way to help people out who were capable of helping themselves by supplying a place to live for three to six months,” said Swalwell.
“We gave people opportunities to make a choice and make things better. The people give up a lot of freedom. They must participate in weekly meetings, make sure that they’re paying their bills, and many other things,” Swalwell added.
“Families gain structure which enables them to move out and be successful on their own. Homes of Hope is part of our culture and will sustain itself over time,” concluded Swalwell.