By: Katie Sobiech
Spring has finally arrived, but the founders and volunteers at Springtime of Hope (SOH) have been bringing a little bit of spring into the lives of those they serve, all year round.
Starting in Appalachia with the poorest of poor in 2001, they took a group down every year to rebuild homes and trailers. This was all out of pocket. In 2005 they began bringing youth groups to the mountains to serve.
“We went every year, but one year, one of Mother Teresa’s Sisters came over. She told us that what we were doing was really beautiful, but that where we will find out true joy is when we are reaching out to those in our own backyard,” Karen McNeill, Executive Director, said.
But McNeill wondered ‘what need is there in Akron, Ohio’?
Soon after, she heard about two men in Akron who brought soup and blankets to the homeless every night. Around the same time, she was admitted to the Cleveland Clinic for an operation, and given a 50/50 chance of survival.
“I said ‘God, if you’re done with me, take me home. If you’re not, show me what I’m supposed to do in the second half of my life’.”
And that He did. A visitor came to her hospital bed and told her, “I think God is calling you to care for his children”.
Shortly after that, in November of 2008, the mission began locally.
Lessons from Appalachia
During their missions in Appalachia, SOH female volunteers stayed at an old Sisters of Charity convent, turned Battered Women’s Shelter, while the men stayed 20 miles away in a warehouse.
Sisters of Charity, an international society that began in 1950 with Mother Theresa in Calcutta, India, has houses on every continent and in most countries of the world. Their mission is to spread salvation, sanctification and love to the poorest of poor all over the world.
“Mother Teresa was such an inspiration in my life. I loved her as a person and what she did for the people. She always said, ‘It’s not important that you do great things, but that you do small things with great joy,” McNeill shared.
Counting Their Blessings
“We are blessed to have the parents that we had growing up and to have homes, a roof over our head, a family to love, and faith. Most of the people we serve don’t have any of those things,” McNeill shared.
Many of the homeless they encounter want to change their lives, they just don’t know how.
“They have to be given a chance. Someone to reach out, love them, touch them,” McNeil said.
“It has all been a divine connection. This is God’s mission,” McNeill said of SOH.
McNeill, Joe Montana (President of SOH), and Melissa Klubnik (Treasurer) all feel God brought them together for this mission.
“It was during a time in my life when I was searching for doing something other than sitting at my desk writing checks to charities,” Montana shared.
Wanting to get out there and help, he purchased a trailer which they used to travel to different locations in Akron and pass out food, blankets and clothing to the homeless.
People came on a weekly basis and it continued to grow until becoming what it is today.
One of a Kind
“My philosophy from the beginning was to not duplicate what someone else was doing. I made a very conscious effort to make certain that we didn’t duplicate an effort of another organization in Akron,” Montana said.
He and the other leaders had meetings with many large groups and providers in Akron, including Community Support Services, the Haven of Rest, the Oriana House, and Alcohol, Drug Addiction and Mental Health Services, in creating the foundation to build SOH upon.
“The meal and clothing programs on Friday night were only slightly putting a band aid on the issues at hand,” Montana said.
After meeting with these organizations they were convinced that they needed to provide Sustainable Supportive Housing for men coming out of local programs.
“Everyone’s number one concern at the meetings we went to at Interval Brotherhood Home (Alcohol and Drug Rehabilitation), Salvation Army, Remar and Oriana House was ‘Where do I go when I get out of here? I don’t have a job, transportation or money, and I’ve alienated my friends and family’,” Montana said.
Leaving a Legacy
Beginning last spring, they started building the housing side of the organization. They went from one house last year, to three men’s homes this year.
“This is what I think will be the legacy of Springtime of Hope because it provides them a place to lay their heads, a warm environment, not to worry about going out and working when they first get out of a program because there’s a lot going on,” Montana said of the housing.
“Statistics tell you that when someone comes out of a program the last thing you should do is put them into full-time employment. They should ease their way back into everything they do,” he continued.
SOH’s housing allows them to do this, one step at a time. They help get people back on their feet, re-connecting them to their families, getting work, a car, and all of these things with their pride still in tact.
“Life is hard enough. To have the addictions on top of it makes it really difficult. Add something else to that already tough part of life and…we want to take all of that away for them right now,” Montana said.
Filling the Gap
“There are a lot of sober houses in Akron. I’ve watched them, but they aren’t working because you’re mixing people who haven’t gone into a program with those in the middle of a program, and people who have come out of a program and putting them all into one home,” Montana said.
“You can’t possibly take someone that’s not finished with their program and put them into a home where someone hasn’t even gone into the Salvation Army or Remar or some of these other facilities,” he continued.
SOH tried this model during their beginning stages and quickly realized that it simply doesn’t work.
“We had this bright idea that we were going to take people off the streets while we were ministering to them at St. Bernard’s on the food ministry side, but we couldn’t because it was like a revolving door. We’d have people in for two days… We realized we needed to step back and re-evaluate,” Montana said.
Having the guys complete a program before entering the homes has proved to be very effective.
Stay tuned for next week’s story on lives that have been touched by the program and to hear from the men staying at the houses!
If you are interested in volunteering with this amazing organization please visit http://www.springtimeofhope.com for more information!