House of Hope has been awarded the prestigious “Neighborhood Builders” grant by Bank of America, a $200,000 contribution over two years that will jumpstart a food services job-training program at House of Hope’s Harrington Hall shelter in Cranston.
“We’re very grateful for all the work that House of Hope does, and you truly help those in tremendous need,” said Bill Hatfield, Rhode Island Market President for Bank of America, in presenting the grant at a Providence ceremony on Nov. 10.
“You’ve always been there for us,” said Jean M. Johnson, House of Hope’s executive director, saying Bank for America “has been part of our organization for 26 years, with grants year after year, with board members, with volunteers supporting our events.’’
The award comes as House of Hope is developing a vocational training program for homeless men and women, which is to be centered around the refurbished kitchen and dining areas at Harrington Hall, which is undergoing extensive renovation by the state.
Under the plan, shelter residents and other homeless people will operate the kitchen under the direction of a professional chef-educator, preparing meals for the 140 men who stay at the shelter. The training and work experience, in turn, will help participants gain jobs in Rhode Island’s nationally-recognized restaurants and related food services businesses.
A potential second phase would be a commercial cafeteria serving the Pastore center, which currently has no central restaurant for the hundreds of people who work at and visit various state agencies housed on the sprawling complex in Cranston.
New Role for Harrington Hall
In discussing the proposed program during the awards ceremony, Johnson noted the example set by Amos House’s pioneering food services initiative, which includes its Friendship Café, along with a catering service, which supplied food for the grant event.
“The funding we are receiving from Bank of America today is going to help launch our employment program at Harrington Hall – a program that we are also kind of modeling after Amos House,” she said.
Job training is a central theme of House of Hope’s overall plan to transform Harrington Hall from serving only as an revolving door shelter – to which homeless men return night after night – by creating a sophisticated “rapid assessment and rehousing center,” to promote permanent housing solutions.
Since it took on the role of managing Harrington Hall for the state in 2009, House of Hope has been providing first-ever programs to help shelter residents obtain medical and other services that can lead to jobs and stable housing.
Now, as the state is renovating the century-old former gymnasium, House of Hope will be able to provide new programs that will accelerate the effort to break the cycle of homelessness, especially for those who have been without homes for years.
A Bank’s Helping Hand
Bank of America formally awarded the grant at a late-afternoon program at the Rhode Island School of Design’s Chase Center Auditorium, attended by 160 bank officials and members of social service organizations, including those that received awards earlier.
The “Neighborhood Builders” program is a major grant award by the bank, and it’s gone to 13 Rhode Island non-profits since 2007, an investment totaling $2.6 million, said Hatfield, the bank executive. Nationally, the Neighborhood Builder program has helped more than 800 nonprofits.
Hatfield said that the Neighborhood Builders program is “one of the largest philanthropic programs of its kind in the country,” and not only provides a $200,000 cash infusion, but leadership training for winning organizations. The “leadership development” component culminates with a national conference in Washington, DC for all agencies that won the award, attended by their chief executives and their designated “emerging” leaders.
Hatfield noted House of Hope Community Development Corporation’s “humble beginnings” in 1989, in which a Warwick church’s social service committee and others in the community opened a “shelter unlike any other,” a two-family shelter in a former school.
“Since the start, they’ve grown into a highly effective, outcome-oriented organization,” he said. Currently, House of Hope owns or operates 22 sites throughout Greater Providence that provide housing and a range of social services.
“Unfortunately,” he said, “today there are over 4,000 people in Rhode Island that are homeless. And House of Hope has worked very hard to give so many of our homeless hope and the stability of a place to call home.”
“It all starts there: with a stable home,” the bank official noted.
A Group Effort
Johnson, in accepting the award, noted House of Hope’s debt to colleagues in other nonprofit agencies, who have encouraged and advised her organization. She noted that some of them were present in the auditorium.
“I see Joe and Eileen and Sharon in the background,” she said, meaning Joe Garlick, executive director of NeighborWorks Blackstone River Valley; Eileen Hayes of Amos House; and Sharon Conard-Wells of West Elmwood Housing Development Corporation. She also noted Frank Shea, former director of Olneyville Housing Corporation.
“It’s always been my privilege to work with such wonderful people in the state of Rhode Island – and to learn from them over 26 years, and to be encouraged by them to continue to do the work that we do,” Johnson said.
Johnson also praised the longtime support of Mayor Scott Avedisian of Warwick, where House of Hope has its headquarters; Avedisian attended the ceremony.
“Scott has been a wonderful champion for us and for the homeless and all people in need in this state, not just in the city of Warwick, and we are very lucky to be housed in that community with you.”
“We’ve also had tremendous, wonderful, dedicated staff from day one until now,” Johnson continued. “People who have worked so hard and have always had the mission of ending homelessness in their hearts and have worked well above and beyond – almost to their detriment sometimes.”
The House of Hope board of directors has provided solid backing over the years, she said, noting the board “has allowed me to take risks,” including the major step of assuming management of Harrington Hall, the state’s largest homeless shelter.
“They have supported every step that we’ve taken,” Johnson said. “And we’ve gone from being one of the smallest organizations in the state doing good work, to now one of the largest, hopefully continuing to do really good work.”
House of Hope’s work, she said, has several elements:
- Providing high-quality housing for formerly homeless people, often by rehabilitating buildings that once were neighborhood eyesores.
- Taking over shelters and programs that were failing under previous management, most recently ACCESS RI in the Blackstone Valley, which provides shelters, a day center and street outreach.
- Supportive services, ensuring that formerly homeless individuals and families are able to remain in their new homes.
“Words of Encouragement”
Johnson joked that she had attended previous Bank of America award events at which other agencies had received the Neighborhood Builders grants, thinking to herself: “Always the bridesmaid, never the bride.” But she was determined to keep trying.
“I knew if I hung in there long enough,” she laughed, “and we continued to do the good work that we did, we could show the bank we were a Neighborhood Builder, too.”
Hatfield said Johnson’s comments were worth noting by leaders of other agencies.
“Those are words of encouragement for those of you who would very much like to receive this award: Keep trying,” Hatfield said. “Just keep coming at us. It is so important that you do. And you will all win. You will all win. And most importantly, our community will win.”