A nonprofit organization that began in 1981 to help women recovering from alcoholism and addiction now has a program designed to foster residents' self-sufficiency.
The Beads of Hope program, funded by the Foellinger Foundation, gives Hope House residents the opportunity to produce, market and sell handcrafted jewelry at various venues in the area. Income from sales of the Beads of Hope jewelry is shared, with 50 percent going to the participating women and the other half invested in the business.
Hope House Executive Director Mary Etheart described Beads of Hope as a “virtual work experience.” The women must learn work ethics and different skills such as marketing, quality control and inventory. The artisans also operate the website, www.beadsofhopeindiana.com, which provides a portal for online sales.
Today, Hope House is a nonprofit organization in Fort Wayne offering state-certified transitional residential programs for homeless women in recovery from chemical dependency.
It was founded in 1981 by Esther Robb, a woman who struggled with alcoholism. Upon discharge from the hospital, she realized there was a need for a transitional period before going back home and potentially to temptation.
Fulfilling this unmet need, she and a group of women founded the organization, which was originally located on Jefferson Boulevard in the West Central neighborhood. Hope House eventually grew from an all-volunteer grass-roots organization to an official nonprofit. It was around this time they relocated to 1115 Garden St., the present-day location.
Today, Hope House offers services to 20 residential clients in two transitional residences. One home, called Hope House 1 at 1115 Garden St., has beds for 12 women. The other home, just a few doors down at 1129 Garden St., is called Martha's Place and houses eight women. The residents currently range in age from 19 to 54.
Both houses are supervised by experienced staff on a 24-hour basis using structured guidelines and individual case management to address client needs. The nonprofit currently employs seven full-time and nine part-time workers.
According to Etheart, 80 percent of the staff is in recovery themselves and 70 percent are previous graduates. To be eligible, staff must complete the program and be out in the community clean or sober for 18 months.
“It shows they care enough to come back,” she said. “They know what it's like.”
Indeed, caring is the foundation of the Hope House's program. Based on 12-Step recovery, the Hope House program offers on-site support groups and both Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous meetings. Attendance at meetings, working with a sponsor and moving through the Twelve Steps are all emphasized as part of a client's progress through the program.
In addition to the clinical aspect, Etheart says there is a self-sufficiency component, too. A staff person works with residents on developing employment skills and developing a resume. A partnership with the Junior League of Fort Wayne also helps residents learn networking skills and how to be more marketable in the workplace.
Shannon Gephart, 28, told herself “someday” she'd be sober and reunited with her children.
That someday has come, thanks to the Hope House.
Gephart, who has since graduated from the recovery program and is now a member of the staff, has a story similar to many of the women served by Hope House. A self-described troublemaker, she started drinking at a young age, then ended up turning to drugs. Her behavior resulted in stints in and out of prison.
Life took a turn for the better when she came to Hope House on Dec. 3, 2010, coincidentally on her 26th birthday.
“This is the best birthday gift you could give yourself,” she said.
But it wasn't easy. Gephart admits to feeling anger, resentment and other negative emotions. She didn't want to get sober. But then one day “it just happened. I completely surrendered. Everything started to make sense.”
In hindsight, Gephart says it was hard to be without her boys for her nine-month stay. (She is now the mother of two sets of twin boys.) Still, there is part of her that wonders what life might have looked like without Hope House.
“This place saved my life ... literally,” she said.Today, life looks bright for the mom of four. She works full time at the house as a direct care staff and has her own place to call home. In between work and raising a family, she has found the time to pursue a degree through Ivy Tech.
Hope House depends on funding from private and local foundations, the United Way of Allen County, the Department of Housing and Urban Development, and the city of Fort Wayne.
To that end, Etheart says she would like to move into a larger building that would allow them to combine the housing units. She also is interested in expanding Beads of Hope and employing more women.
She is honored to have recently gotten a “Top-Rated Award” from GreatNonprofits, a provider of user reviews about nonprofits. It was based on the large number of positive reviews that Hope House got — reviews written by volunteers, donors and clients. For more, visit www.hopehouseinc.us.