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Better Than They Hoped

Featured Photo from Better Than They Hoped

One of Oviedo’s most important charities, HOPE Helps, is almost ready to move into its new resource center, where thousands of local men, women, and children will be given the food and support they need to avoid homelessness. The new facility is a wonder, and a testament to the community’s support of HOPE, but the community isn’t done yet.

Heather Goergen, program/case manager for HOPE Helps, Inc., will have to call you back. Heather’s makeshift desk sits right next to the large, industrial refrigerator in HOPE’s soon-to-be former food pantry/office/warehouse/storage shed. When the compressor on the ‘fridge cycles on, conversations with Heather are challenging, to say the least.

You should probably avoid talking to DeAnn Gurney, too. She’s usually a delight, but it’s 3:00 p.m., and HOPE’s marketing coordinator has missed lunch for the second day this week. When DeAnn arrived in the morning, she put her lunch in the break-room refrigerator like normal. But HOPE’s break room is actually a small closet that also doubles (or, triples, rather) as a private office where caseworkers meet with clients facing the terrifying possibility of homelessness. HOPE staff agrees never to interrupt such a meeting as clients discuss their sensitive personal and financial issues, even if it means lunch goes uneaten.

Instead, DeAnn sits at her desk and tries to Focus on HOPE’s important work... which is difficult considering DeAnn’s desk – complete with monitor, keyboard, and phone – is actually a seat at the far end of HOPE’s conference room table. And a conference is very much in session.

These are the challenges of a small and scrappy nonprofit that has seen the need for its services explode in recent years. To keep up with demand, HOPE actually sought out the small building on Eyrie Drive, which it instantly outgrew.

“With help from a private donor who awarded us a $100,000 grant, we put a down payment on the building, and that kicked off our capital campaign to pay off the rest of the loan,” says HOPE CEO Joan Faulkner.

HOPE immediately began cramming its burgeoning staff and overflowing community food pantry into the much-too-little space. And for this brilliant bit of strategy and HOPE’s other shrewd financial moves, the Orlando Sentinel recently named HOPE one of its Top 100 Companies in Central Florida for 2016. Not Top 100 Nonprofits, Top 100 Companies of any type.

Wait... What?

The secret to HOPE’s savvy is what lies behind its current office: a 5,500-square-foot warehouse that has been painstakingly and beautifully renovated thanks to community donations and in-kind services. This is the building where Heather will be able to speak with clients and HOPE partners in the privacy of her own office (sans industrial ‘fridge). This is where families will be able to access HOPE’s entire food pantry in one room, and they won’t have to wait outside under the scorching sun or pouring rain for the opportunity. And this is where DeAnn believes HOPE will finally be able to give clients the uplifting and dignified experience they deserve. And soon, when the new resource center comes online, clients can expect even more services.

“In the old space, things were haphazard, and it kind of mirrored the situation many of our clients were in,” says DeAnn. “Now we will have a place that can show them how bright their futures will be.”

A space that, in other words, inspires hope.

Thanks to community support, HOPE’s capital campaign is already off to a roaring start. The goal is to raise $1.6 million to pay off the loan, purchase the property for the adjacent HOPE Chest thrift store, and complete renovations to the resource center/food pantry.

“We’ve reached 70 percent of the goal in just one year,” says Joan. “but HOPE is reaching out to the community to raise the remaining funds so that more of HOPE’s revenues can go directly to client services.”

“The payments on the loan are lower than the rent we were paying before,” says Janis Williams, HOPE’s CFO. “So it was a wise move to grab this property when we did. But as soon as the loan is cleared, that much more money will be available to help families in need,” To jump-start the final leg of the capital campaign, HOPE recently invited the Oviedo community to tour its new – and old – digs.

Leadership Seminole to Leave Its Legacy

“We’ve never had anything new,” says Joan Faulkner. So when Joan learned that Leadership Seminole Class 26 wanted to help complete the renovations to HOPE’s new facility, she was ecstatic.

Each Leadership Seminole class chooses a local nonprofit to help with its Legacy of Leadership community service project. With much finishing work and furnishing to be done in the new HOPE Helps resource center, members of Class 26 voted to steer their generosity in HOPE’s direction.

The class will raise funds to purchase most of the furniture to outfit the new building, and class members will donate their time and labor to build it. The class will also raise funds and allocate man-hours to other projects throughout the space to ensure the resource center is functional, comfortable, and stylish.

Previously, HOPE has outfitted its offices with donated used furniture or other makeshift creations from whatever material could be had at no cost. No two pieces of office furniture have ever been alike, leading to the disjointed look and feel of HOPE’s previous spaces. Thanks to Leadership Seminole, the new facility will look cohesive and organized, leaving HOPE to focus more of its time, talent, and resources to the families who need it most.

Community and business leaders reveled in the large and inviting space, and they cheerily compared it to the adjacent office where just about every nook and cranny was pulling double- or triple-duty. HOPE staff explained that the former warehouse was carefully transformed so that clients could enter a one-stop center to access a wide variety of services from HOPE and partner agencies that can use satellite offices on-site. The resource center will include an education/computer center for food stamp and Medicaid applications, tax preparation, financial literacy/budgeting classes, resume building, and more. 

“Our staff and volunteers have stuck with us through a lot,” says HOPE CEO Joan Faulkner. “We have a really strong team to take us to the next level, and now we have the right facility to help us get there.”

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