Hope House celebrates 30 years of charitable work

John Jared Hawks
Mary Lois Yates, longtime Hope House coordinator, speaks at a Ottawa Area Chamber of Commerce Coffee hosted Friday morning at Hope House. [John Jared Hawks/The Ottawa Herald].

One of the longest-serving non-profits in the Franklin County area took some time last week to reflect on their history, and their path into the future.

"When named the organization, we put a lot of time into it," said Mary Lois Yates. "One of the board members asked, 'This thing we are doing, what does it mean?' What we came up with then, and still applies today, is that we are here to give people hope.

"That's how we got 'Hope House.' "

Yates, long time Hope House coordinator, was one of the many volunteers, staff and community members on hand to celebrate the 30th anniversary of Hope House's activity in Franklin County. Hope House is a church-affiliated nonprofit that works to fill myriad needs in the community, from food to housing and beyond.

"It was around May of 1990, there had been a growing concern around unmet needs of community members," Yates recounted, having participated in Hope House's founding herself. "The Ottawa Ministerial Association sent out a letter to all the churches in Franklin County, and about 12 churches responded.

"I belonged to one of the churches, and a light bulb went off when I read the last sentence of the letter that was sent to us: 'Working together to help other people.' It resonated with me; I thought it was cool."

After some organizational meetings and help from an area lawyer to reach their nonprofit status, Hope House began the work that would go on to solidify its status as a constant community resource.

"The Ottawa First Baptist Women's Auxiliary gave us some money, and the Ministerial Alliance gave us some money, but we still started off pretty meagerly," Yates said. "But it was just a given, that this is what we had to do. And we're a Christian center, so we've always believed that if God wants us to be here, he'll provide, and he has. A couple of times things have been low, but we're in awe of the support from the community. We're thankful."

The group started off in an empty parsonage at 9th and Main streets associated with the Church of the Brethren, now known as the Ottawa Community Church, before moving to their current location at 302 S. Walnut St., Ottawa.

"Westminster Presbyterian Church was in charge of it," Yates said. "They had thought about making it into a youth center, but that didn't develop, so they gave the building to Hope House on a quit-claim deed."

The organization fills diverse needs in the community, often centering around basic needs of food and shelter in times of crisis.

"A lot of our projects are specific to a person's circumstances," Yates said. "We have fully equipped food and clothing pantries. We can offer certain amounts toward utilities and rent, and help with emergency lodging."

The organization also works alongside other groups with similar goals, like the East Central Kansas Economic Opportunity Association (ECKAN).

"When we got started, ECKAN was doing similar things to what we were trying to do," Yates said. "We've always wanted to work alongside them, so we work hard to not duplicate what they do. Sometimes it takes ECKAN, Hope House and other entities to fulfill a given person's needs."

However, there are still times when needs overwhelm the organization's resources.

"(Thursday) was a very busy day – a lot of people had gotten their notices that their utilities were going to be shut off," Yates said. "The combined need was more than we were able to help with, which happens, sad to say."

The group is currently looking for volunteers to help with manual labor.

"We really need manpower right now," Yates said. "A lot of us working here are in our later years, and so our backs have been used quite a bit. Anymore, we could use more help with technology as well. A lot of us oldies don't have those skills."

Yates said Hope House encourages volunteers to follow their passion within the organization.

"When someone comes in to volunteer, we want them to fit in where they are comfortable working," she said. "We had one gentleman who started upstairs in the food pantry, and he later found his niche in the clothing. We want people to be happy and enjoy their time volunteering here."