Photo courtesy of Gwinnett Magazine
By far the greatest joy Maureen Kornowa gets from directing the Home of Hope at Gwinnett Children’s Shelter is the children. “The little faces of those precious children…” she said, sounding more like a proud mother than a busy director. “They call me Miss MoMo. And when they put their little arms out and say ‘hey Miss MoMo,’ I’m telling you it melts me.”
When Maureen was hired as director of Gwinnett Children’s Shelter in 2014, it was a level-one lock-down facility that housed juveniles from the Division of Family and Children Services and the Department of Juvenile Justice. This meant it was largely limited by state regulations on what type of services it could offer and to whom.
Homeless shelters, traditionally, have been a place of refuge for the destitute, hopeless and downtrodden. They provide temporary shelter and food for those displaced in our society. But for the most part, a traditional shelter tends to be a Band-Aid, not a sustainable solution to a real problem.
Maureen wanted to offer more than just a temporary fix. She wanted to break the cycle of homelessness, offer hope and a path to sustainability for young children and their mothers. She envisioned a transitional program focused on long-term success for its guests, not just on offering up meals and mats for its residents.
A New Beginning
To make her vision a reality and serve the homeless children of Gwinnett and Metro Atlanta, the organization underwent a monumental restructuring. GCS cut its ties to the State of Georgia and changed its name to Home of Hope at GCS to better reflect its purpose – to provide “life plans” that are designed around the physical, emotional and educational needs of the children while helping young mothers and young women aging out of the foster care system get a plan of action to get on their feet.
“It was no easy feat and a leap of faith to sever ties with the state and go completely private,” said Maureen. “But what we found in sharing our new mission and vision with everyone was that people were all on board about us having a program that was actually designed to implement lasting change and reduce the rate of recidivism to the need for our social services. It saves us all as taxpayers in the long run but more importantly it keeps a family unit together and helps mom get on her feet to independence.”
When the HoH reopened in June 2014, it was equipped to house five families at a time. It now has the space and resources for 15 families and if things go as Maureen plans, it will be at full capacity of 22 families by July this year. So far 67 families have graduated out of the program. That’s 67 young women and their children who have a darn good chance of beating the cycle of homelessness – 67 families who are no longer dependent on housing solutions from the state – 67 young women who are now employed and contributing to society.
The Road Map to Self Sufficiency
“Our goal is not simply to be a place of refuge. We are the ‘next step’ towards independence,” said Kornowa. “We take our guests from homelessness, to hopeful, to a home of their own.”
The young mothers and their children, or guests as they are referred to, come from all walks of life. Some found themselves in bad situations, such as divorce or job loss, that led to them being homeless while others come from generational poverty and have only known dependence on others for survival. The one common thread shared among the guests, regardless of how they landed there, is their desire to make a better life for themselves and their children.
The program isn’t a walk in the park for its guests and some decide they aren’t up for the challenge shortly after arriving. There is a high level of accountability, and guests must take responsibility for themselves and their children, and meet certain criteria to remain in the program. “It can be challenging at first while they are getting used to our rules because adults sometimes don’t want rules. They have to come to trust that we have a method that is going to get them out of homelessness.”
On average, guests and their children spend about six months at the HoH. While working through the program, they learn invaluable life skills aimed at helping them succeed once they’ve graduated. A strong focus on budgeting, education, parenting and job skills ensures that moms have a fighting chance to make it on their own and provide for their young children as they move out into the world. Sixty-seven-percent of the home’s participants are successfully transitioned into stable housing which is well above average in the non-profit sector.
Fundraising Fuels the Mission
As most private non-profits can attest, raising funds to keep a facility is paramount to the organization’s viability. Without financial support from donors, there’s no program. Because HoH is a non-profit, 501C3 corporation, it is 100-percent dependent on grants and donations from individuals and the business and church communities. “We have community partners, like MIS, who have been longtime supporters and stayed with us during the changeover. That’s huge for us. People see the need and see the heart of our mission and they’re saying ‘yes, we believe in what you’re doing and we want to be part of it.’”
Still the never-ending need for funds to keep the program going coupled with the inevitable maintenance and repairs that must be done can be trying. “There have been days when I’m sitting here in my office and my heart feels heavy and I don’t know how I’m going to pay for something, I’ll radio the house staff and ask if anybody is home from school yet so I can go get a child fix. That gets me right in the head and reminds me why I do what I do.”
The good work being done by Maureen and her team has not gone unnoticed in the community. The Gwinnett Chamber of Commerce recently honored Maureen for her public service at the Chamber’s annual dinner. “I about fell out of my chair when I heard the news,” she said. “But it was a really proud moment because when we took on the project of transitioning Gwinnett Children’s Shelter, there were people who said ‘they’ll never make it. That door’s going to close because they’ll never be able to do it.’ But here we are.
“Do you know what that award said to me? It said they see us. They see us and the work that we’re doing at Home of Hope at Gwinnett Children’s Shelter. They see the passion with which we’re doing it and we’re making a difference and that was a nod of approval from the community saying ‘we see you and we appreciate you.’ That meant more to me than anything.”
How You Can Help
Home of Hope continues to need community partners. There are several ways local companies and individuals alike can help. If your company would like to volunteer for project work at the facility or supply a weekend meal for the guests, please call 678-546-8770 or visit on the web at www.homeofhopegcs.org
Editor’s note: At MIS, we like doing business with those organizations that have a “bigger” purpose. Yes, we’re all working and running our businesses to make a profit. After all, the bigger the profit the bigger our contribution to those causes we believe in. What is your company’s bigger purpose? Email Carol at email@example.com and tell us about the causes your company supports.