A new home, a new start

Shelter helps mothers, children turn lives around

Editor’s note: Names of women living at House of Hope have been changed to protect their identities.

A year ago, Jennifer’s life was going from bad to worse.

The downward spiral began last summer, when the single mother of two boys was commuting from Federal Way to Seattle’s Northgate neighborhood. She became infected with the drug-resistent strain of bacteria known as MRSA at her workplace and managed to recover, only to lose her job after her car broke down.

After neighbors accused her of being a drug addict, Child Protective Services ordered her to take drug tests and move in with her father. Jennifer passed her tests, but found that raising her family in her dad’s household was too stressful.

“He’d come home at 9 o’clock at night when I was trying to put my kids to sleep, and decided it was playtime,” Jennifer said. “He thought my kids could turn their hyperness off on a dime.

“But that’s not how kids are,” she added.” It was really frustrating and hard for me. I ended up getting depressed.”

When her father threatened to kick them out, she knew a change was needed.

“I’m not going to wait until he decides to kick us out,” Jennifer decided. “I’m going to move out.”

In dire straits, Jennifer called a help line, seeking shelter. The only place with room was Mamma’s Hands House of Hope, a shelter for women and children in the Snoqualmie Valley.

She moved in last May.

“It was the home I needed at the time,” she said. “My kids have loved it ever since we got here.”

Her younger son, Conner, called it “The big house in the woods.” Older son Dillyn made a best friend within minutes of arriving.

Now, Jennifer is taking community college classes, has her eye on a new career, and is moving this month to housing in Seattle, found with help from the Veteran’s Administration.

“It’ll be my own place,” she said. “It’s just one step further.”

House of Hope

Six families, all women and children, currently live at House of Hope.

Founder Dennis Hancock started House of Hope in 1991 as a place to help families navigate adversity, break cycles of dependency and realize their potential to become contributing, self-sufficient members of the community. About 30 families a year come through the shelter, which operates on an annual budget of $240,000, all from donations.

Through its Phone Home program, House of Hope also helps homeless people reconnect with their families. The program has moved about 700 people off the street.

Families can stay at House of Hope for as long as they need to, provided they are making progress to better their lives and achieve independence.

Women and children come to the shelter from bad situations — drug and alcohol problems, violent spouses and health problems.

“Almost all of them come from abusive situations,” Hancock said. “We get them here with drugs, broken bones, even the babies and the kids.

“They’ve made mistakes,” he added. “When they realize they can be forgiven, that they can start over,” that is a powerful moment.

Not every participant makes it through. Some cannot break the cycle, but most do.

“Almost all of them stay here six months to a year, and walk out of here a new person,” Hancock said.

Many of the moms attend Bellevue Community College, take online or other college courses, or finish their high school diploma. Some meet local men, and start new relationships.

“We’ve had some great weddings,” Hancock said.

Graduates go on to become renters and homeowners, and one went on to own a business and ended up donating back to House of Hope, throwing a bowling and pizza party for families there.

Coming home

“I was the mom who got sick and had all these bills,” said resident Blaire. A medical issue meant that Blaire had to stay in a a hospital for months. Medical bills in the millions of dollars were picked up by Medicare, but her other debts overwhelmed her. She learned about House of Hope from a state nurse in the Women, Infants and Children program.

“Some people did not want to take me,” Blaire said. “When I called here, they were really understanding.”

As a privately-funded shelter, House of Hope has flexibility in helping non-traditional shelter residents like Blaire.

“I don’t feel like we bent our rules,” House Director Melanie DenBoer said. “We did what the situation called for. Sometimes, that is what we have to do.”

Katrina left an abusive relationship in New York state to come to the House of Hope.

“It was hard because I didn’t know anybody out here,” she said. “The idea of being in this house gave me added comfort to come out here, and gave me the courage to do the hard stuff.”

“It seemed like a different kind of shelter,” she said. “They acknowledge you as people.”

Mom Salima moved to the United States from Kenya after winning a ticket to America in a lottery. A friend offered to host her for a month, and then a state worker referred her to House of Hope.

“I was in a really tight situation,” Salima said. “This place was a godsend. When my boys came, they just loved it. They didn’t want to leave.”

Salima is now studying to become a medical receptionist and hopes to find a job in the Valley.

House of Hope keeps a clothing rack to help moms and kids take their next steps.

“When they come here, they have next to nothing,” said Marcia Bennett-Reinert, House of Hope house manager. “As they ready themselves to go out into the world, we like to send them with what we can.”

Each mother cooks for her own children, and takes cooking classes, learning how to make healthy, inexpensive meals.

The women also learn auto maintenance.

“When they get ready to go, they have a tool kit, so they’re better able to care for themselves and break that cycle of dependency,” Bennett-Reinert said.

Growing up

Seven children, all boys age 7 and younger, now live at the house. They have a basketball hoop, a big yard and 19 acres to play in.

School age children attend local elementary schools, while younger children attend Encompass and day care.

“The kids always have somebody to play with,” DenBoer said.

“I love my friends,” Dillyn said. He has a bike, and gets along with his friends — most of the time.

“Sometimes they’re angels, and sometimes they’re a gang,” Bennett-Reinert said. “One day they love each other, the next day they want to kill each other.”

“They’re living like siblings,” DenBoer said. “It’s a family living environment. Families sometimes have stress.”

This is the third school for kidergartner Dillyn. Things are looking more stable already, through.

“He came here from Seattle, where he was just another kid,” Jennifer said. “He ended up getting a best friend right away. The school bus drivers know him by name.”

Living isn’t quite independent at House of Hope. Families share rooms, and dorm doors are only half-doors so staff can look in on them.

Friction among the moms is rare. For the moms, it’s a communal environment but a far cry from one of those reality TV shows where people live in top of each other.

“On TV, they pick personalities that are going to clash,” Blaire said.

“We pick personalities that are going to work together,” DenBoer added.

“I share a room with Blaire, and she’s my best friend,” Katrina said. “I don’t think we’ve ever argued. It’s hard to imagine.”

New hope

House of Hope will reopen its second dormitory this month, thanks to big help from volunteers. When the second building opens in September, it will double House of Hope’s capacity.

On Friday, Aug 14, more than 100 volunteers from the Hitachi Consulting Group in Seattle and Portland descended on the site, donating more than $28,000 in labor.

“This is wonderful,” Hancock said, watching as Hitachi’s Inspiring Involvement team repaired the children’s basketball court, landscaped, re-roofed buildings and built new sheds.

“This is going to put us over the edge,” he said.

After Hancock injured his leg last year, maintenance work was becoming insurmountable. Now, thanks to volunteers, the House of Hope campus has a new lease on life.

Hitachi provides project and management consulting services to Northwest corporations such as Microsoft, and has its own service program, Inspire Involvement, to give back.

“Being in our community is good for our perspective,” said Jennifer Wells, vice president at Hitachi Consulting. “We get to interact with people we don’t normally interact with.

“At the end of the day, it’s satisfying,” she added. “Our work doesn’t always led itself to such fast results. We’re excited to give back to an organization that is doing remarkable work for people that really need it.”

“I’m really impressed with all the work that’s happening here, and grateful that so many people decided to take this day out of work to be here,” said Blair. She and Salima got help from Hitachi employees in updating their resumes.

“We talked about interviewing skils and confidence when you’ve got some good things to market — and she does,” Hitachi human resources manager Lori Spencer said. “She just needs to step up to the plate and realize that everybody’s just a person. You walk away learning from the interview experience, whether it’s a good or bad outcome.”

Volunteers are still needed to help House of Hope with construction and plumbing, and vehicles are also needed. To learn more, visit houseofhopewashington@yahoo.com or call (425) 915-2073.