KentHOPE is much more than a day center for women and children.
By Michelle Gehlman-Teeter
KentHOPE is a Kent-based nonprofit whose mission is to build a community by providing stable pathways out of homelessness for women and children while caring for the body, mind and spirit. The idea for KentHOPE started with a consortium of local area churches and volunteers. They were running a feeding program and wanted to create an emergency shelter in Kent. Working for three years and partnering with Union Gospel Mission, in 2013, they opened the KentHOPE day center for women and children.
The day center helps an average of 30 women and three children every day. It is a place where they can get warm, take a shower, wash their clothes and have a meal. But more than that, KentHOPE clients also get respect, compassion and camaraderie. As an added service, the day center has three computers the guests can use to apply for jobs, look for housing, and check in with their families.
Two staff members work at the day center every day, helping clients navigate community resources and find stable housing and jobs. At night, local churches rotate a shelter for the women to sleep indoors.
Lisa Candler, the KentHOPE Ministries Manager, gave me a tour and talked with me about the program. The day center is run in a small house where they have a room with tables for eating, bible study and other programs. In another room with a TV, they hold classes like knitting, life skills and they even squeeze in Zumba!
The kitchen and computer room complete the upstairs, while downstairs there is a laundry room, a play room and lounge area, a respite room for naps and a storage room. Twice a month KentHOPE opens the clothing storage room for the ladies to get items they need.
Outside KentHOPE has a nice-sized, fenced-in backyard. Clients in the day center do chores to keep things running smoothly. They also earn points they can redeem to purchase things like cosmetics and jewelry once a week. A nurse from HealthPoint comes in once a week to give flu shots, health assessments and to provide referrals to other healthcare providers.
KentHOPE averages about six volunteers a day whose skills range from teaching classes and facilitating bible study to providing meals and driving the women to and from the overnight shelters. The biggest challenge KentHOPE faces is a lack of space. The older building they are using right now was really meant for a family of four, not 30.
The plumbing is acting up, so it is being worked on right now. This means they are down to one bathroom, no laundry and some porta-johns outside until the plumbing gets fixed. The good news is KentHOPE’s board of directors and volunteers have been working hard on finding a larger place, and they have just about finalized one.
KentHOPE has been working with the city of Kent to get an Emergency Housing Zoning Code Amendment approved, and they have already started working with architects on a larger, 24-hour Resource Center. It will expand capacity to help 60 women and children every day as well as overnight. There will be space to accommodate partners who come up to help as well, including Sound Mental Health, Multi-Service Center, Catholic Community Services, HealthPoint and Valley Cities, among others. The main floor will be 6,000 square feet.
KentHOPE held their annual fundraiser a few weeks ago at the Green River Student Union. In addition to dinner, the KentHOPE Choir sang, a past guest displayed her artwork, and another past guest gave testimony on how KentHOPE helped her get out on her own now.
More than 400 people attended, raising over $91,000. This will help support KentHOPE’s work which costs an average of $948 a day to operate. Since the day center opened in 2013, it has transitioned 319 women and children out of homelessness, or an average of nine per month. Also, KentHOPE has helped 144 women get jobs.
To learn more about KentHOPE, visit KentHOPE.org. Its greatest needs right now are winter coats, boots, shoes, underwear, bras, toilet paper, deodorant, socks and Clorox wipes. KentHOPE is also looking for volunteers to bring and serve meals and to drive the van to and from overnight shelters at several Kent churches. Financial donations are also needed to help cover KentHOPE’s expenses and fund the new 24-hour Resource Center.
KentHOPE helps people in our city every day. They are proof that not everything has to be perfect to help someone in need.