Category Archives: Hope Center

Furry Family Members Remain With Their Loved Ones

The support the Hope Center has received has assisted hundreds of individuals and families, and this includes several pets like Scruffy (see Jim and Scruffy’s story on the front page). Friendship House has partnered with Faithful Friends to ensure all guests with an animal companion receive the care they need. Sarah Granda, Marketing and Public Relations Manager for Faithful Friends, shared, “By providing basic and urgent veterinary care, pet food, and care packages that include treats, blankets, sweaters, and toys, we are keeping pets out of local animal shelters and with the families they love.”

“Since the Center’s opening in December, we’ve provided ongoing care for 30 pets including cats, dogs, guinea pigs, hamsters, and reptiles” – Sarah Granda

For some individuals and families, these pets are their service or companion animal. “We understand that pets provide emotional support to their owners and enrich the lives of those around them,” Sarah added.

Nancy Correll, Faithful Friends Volunteer

“In spite of everything they have been through, [the animals] are certainly loved and in good shape,” said Nancy Correll (pictured right), a Faithful Friends volunteer. Nancy shared with us the joys of what she does, recalling an individual who had been living in his car with his two dogs. Nancy, along with our staff walked with them on their journey. They are now in permanent housing and Nancy recalled, “the dogs maintained their well-being the whole time [they] were here.”

“We feel strongly that accessible services are vital for an equitable community and we enjoy working alongside the Friendship House team to support pets and people in our community” – Sarah Granda

Thanks to you, our loving supportive community, we have been able to provide families, individuals, and their animal companions with the attention and resources that they deserve.

“We all work together with one common goal” -Nancy Correll

And because of your loving support, we are one step closer to that goal.

The Top Dog and James – A Fines and Fees Story

“He is the Top Dog,” James, a Hope Center resident, said about his dog Scruffy (pictured left). James and Scruffy moved into the NCC Hope Center in December and have been a welcomed presence. The two are frequently seen in the lobby interacting with staff and other residents. James has been chronically homeless most of his adult life and has had an ongoing relationship with Friendship House for over 20 years.

As the country shut down in response to COVID-19, many individuals found themselves presented with obstacles they have never had to deal with before, James was among them. He found himself without a job, without an ID, and facing barriers he didn’t know existed.

While James attempted to apply for the stimulus check in the early months of the pandemic, he was consistently rejected. Left with few options, James and Scruffy were resigned to living in a tent. When the Hope Center opened in December we screened James to see if he’d be interested in entering this temporary shelter. Within the week, the two moved into the Hope Center in time to escape a snowstorm. FH staff members continue to work closely with James and Scruffy. We provide them with case management, support, and access to many other on-site resources. This includes resources for Scruffy through our partnership with Faithful Friends (click here to read about this partnership), ensuring that the two are not separated.

While working with us, James discovered he had a minor outstanding court fee from the 90’s. This fee was the barrier keeping him from obtaining his ID, his stimulus check, receiving disability, and finding a job. For 24 years, James did not know he had this fine holding him back. So, we stepped in to assist.

Because of your support and in partnership with the Campaign to End Debtor’s Prison, we have been able to expand our Financial Assistance program to include a Fines and Fees Fund. We work with almost 4,000 people every year who are experiencing various levels of homelessness. Some of these individuals do not have the financial stability to pay a financial burden that accompanies an infraction, violation, or misdemeanor. Some are even unaware of the fees that are attached to them. When the problem continues to be unresolved, a warrant for one’s arrest can ensue.

James sat down with FH case managers in the spring of 2021, and through the Fines and Fees Fund we were able to assist him. Using the fund, we paid this fine that was preventing him from obtaining basic necessities needed to live a self sufficient life. James reflected on working with FH during his time at the Hope Center, he commented the staff was, “Awesome as always.”

James and Scruffy continue to stay at the Hope Center while they work on their way to permanent housing. “Better than the tent, no complaints,” James added about their stay at the Hope Center.

Ultimately, James said he was grateful for FH and the Hope Center. James and Scruffy were given, “opportunities [they] didn’t have living in his tent.”

Your loving support has aided us to begin breaking the cycle of homelessness caused by court issued fines for a person living in poverty. Your donations enable us to help individuals and families, like James and Scruffy, through the Fines and Fees Fund.

Celeste Merritt’s Story

Citibank employee, Celeste Merritt, joined Friendship House for 4 weeks in March as a volunteer through her company’s #givingback program. After signing out of her day job, she was able to dedicate 40 hours a week to us while still receiving her paycheck. She split her time between the Hope Center and Clothing Bank. Celeste shares her story below on how her path led her to volunteer with us. She remarks on her hardship, triumphs and desire to give back. Celeste has been a remarkable asset to the FH family and we thank her for her dedication to our mission.

The Path I Have Chosen
By Celeste Merritt

You can choose your own path. The world around you may be different than what you want it to be. You can make the change.

I grew up poor, “on the wrong side of the tracks” in rural Louisiana. I am a product of the system. We relied on food stamps and moved many times because my parents couldn’t pay the rent. I went to eleven different schools before I graduated high school, three in my fifth-grade year! I was never physically abused, but I saw abuse around me and was sympathetic to the victims. My mother said I’ve always rooted for the underdog.
When I was fifteen, I told my mother that I wanted to go to college to have a better life, but she didn’t have the money to send me. Neither she nor my father ever went to college, but I could see that education would get me out of the life we were living.

Fortunately for me, I was intelligent and made good grades. I was on honor roll and was in the National Honor Society. In eleventh grade, I was taking a bookkeeping class and was doing a project on running a business. I remember sitting on my bed, crying my eyes out because I couldn’t reconcile the books by $0.03. It was my calling then to find out where those three pennies were and that is when I decided to become an accountant.
It was also in eleventh grade that I had a revelation about having a career. I was sitting in my English class and the girl in front of me was pregnant and married. Waiting on the bell to ring one day, we were talking with our teacher, Mrs. Burke. Mrs. Burke asked the girl what she expected to do in her life. The girl said, “be married.” Mrs. Burke turned around, looked at her and told her that she had been married, but her husband died. She said she didn’t go to college until she was in her 40’s, as a widow, to get over her grief and learn how to support herself. I decided then that I wasn’t going to rely on anyone, especially a man, to get the things I wanted in life.

However, I did meet a boy in high school and ended up getting married when I was nineteen. My mother was happy I was getting married and didn’t encourage me to attend college first. I didn’t let my marriage divert me from getting an education though. I started taking college classes two weeks after I graduated from high school. I was able to get a Pell Grant and tested out of some of the general education courses. The boy I married was in the Air Force, so I continued to move around a lot. It took me seven years and five colleges to get my undergrad degree, but I never wavered from my decision to be an accountant. I started taking graduate courses right away and also passed the certified public accountant exam. By this point, I had started my career in public accounting and frankly was just burned out from so much school. While I am about halfway through my master’s degree, I have yet to pick it back up but the desire is starting to rekindle itself.

I started working at twelve as a babysitter and at fifteen, went to work at a daycare center, working in the after school and summer programs. I worked full time all through college so I wouldn’t have to take out any student loans. After graduation, I finally started my professional career in public accounting at Price Waterhouse. I worked in the tax department, doing corporate tax returns, and it was about this time that my marriage fell apart. Thankfully, we had not had children, so we went our separate ways with no strings attached. Once I divorced, I transferred to the research and development tax credit group that was just getting started. This position allowed me to travel but was based out of San Jose, California at the time. This experience led me to go to a client, Cisco Systems. While there, I transferred to the treasury department because they were opening an office in Reno, Nevada. There, I gained the experience of treasury accounting, booking entries for investments when they went public. When the Silicon Valley bubble burst in the early 2000’s, I found myself without a job and decided to take some time to determine what it was that I wanted to do with my life. After networking with someone in the staffing industry, she recommended me for a three-week assignment at the Amazon Fulfillment Center in Fernley, Nevada. That three weeks turned into an analyst position, with a promotion to controller and a move to Delaware. I was the East Coast controller for Amazon at a time when there were only five distribution centers in the entire country! That position is where I gained my operations finance experience, as well as learning to manage a team of people.

About a year and a half after moving to Delaware, I remarried and we had our first daughter. As intense as Amazon was, I didn’t want to miss her first Christmas. With my operations finance background and a referral from a former peer controller, I landed a role at Bank of America as the Fraud Finance Manager. Not only was I coming into a new industry, but a month into the job, the Fraud Center of Excellence was formed, so I was learning two lines of business within the banking world. I was there for over eight years before moving to Citibank to be the Global Fraud Reporting Manager, which is the role I continue in today.

When it comes to volunteering, I think about the journey I have taken over the course of my life. As a young kid, I was the recipient of a giving program called “Shop with a Cop”. I remember early on, when I was about six or seven, my sister, one of my brothers, and I rode a bus with police officers to the local Kmart to buy Christmas presents for our parents and other siblings. I remember picking out a pair of house shoes for my mother. When I was in my first marriage as an Air Force wife, I volunteered to prepare tax returns for service members. When I was at Price Waterhouse, I got involved in recruiting to try to help candidates decide what they wanted to do in their own careers. One year at Thanksgiving, my roommate and I volunteered with a minority sorority to set up dinner for the elderly. Working at the Amazon Fulfillment Center in Fernley, I realized not all of the area managers and process assistants had
the spreadsheet skills needed to do the reports they distributed, so I taught Excel classes to help them improve their skills.

However, it was really at Bank of America that I truly became involved in giving back. I joined the Women’s Leadership Network where I started coaching and mentoring my peers and junior associates. That program got me involved with Girls on the Run where I served on the racing committee for a couple of years. By this time, my two daughters were attending a Title I elementary school where I was the treasurer of the PTA. They progressed to the Title I middle school in our area and I still serve as the PTA treasurer there. Along the way, they started swimming for the local YMCA, so I joined the Parent Advisory Council and managed the swim team snack bar. We joined our local pool and I’ve been the social coordinator there for the past several years.

Through all of this, Citibank offered a Volunteer Day for me to take a day and give back to my community. I normally used it to chaperone field trips, so still benefiting my family, but my community too. And then this year, Citibank started the Giving Back Leave Program where I have the opportunity to leave my ‘day job’ and work in my community on a full-time basis for up to four consecutive weeks. I chose Friendship House because I have seen firsthand, some of the challenges they are helping others to overcome. If I can make a difference in one person’s life, it will be for the good!

Hope Center Update

In December, New Castle County purchased the former Sheraton hotel, now called the Hope Center. The vision was to welcome those experiencing homelessness into a temporary shelter for the winter. The county invited us to run programming out of this location, as we know the clientele well. We ensure all guests have access to food and transportation to their appointments and work. Our program also includes access to case management along with medical assistance, mental help professionals, and substance abuse counselors.
 
As of February 10, we had 166 guests filling 105 rooms. Our goal is to secure permanent housing for our guests and keep them from returning to the street. If you or someone you know could benefit from this service please leave a voicemail or text 1-833-FIND-BED.
 
We are always looking for more volunteers or donations. If you’re interested in volunteering at the Hope Center, please email volunteer@friendshiphousede.org. From monetary donations, click here to donate now!
 
Click here to read some Hope Center stories!

Hope Center Stories

Behind every face is a story. When you look at someone’s face, you can only make guesses, or judgements, about the story based on what you think you see. Is there sadness or pain in their eyes? How old are the scars? How many sighs or laughs have those wrinkles experienced? 

When someone shares their story, it can change how you see their face. We realize the scar was from a childhood accident. We learn the sadness is from the fear of an aging parent, or lost child, or of the future. We might learn the wrinkles are from decades of walking in the sun.

We decide what part of our story we share. This is why it is such an honor for us at Friendship House to hear stories – whatever part someone is willing to tell. When someone reveals a piece of themselves they are exposing more of who they are and becoming vulnerable. In response, we look at that beloved face with compassion: a gift we can offer back. When hearing a story with compassion, oftentimes you see the face as more precious, more loved, and more beautiful. We are all children of God on a journey to find home. How we listen and learn along that journey could affect how we see one another and ourselves. 

We have already experienced hundreds of stories at the Hope Center. We are honored to share a few of these with you. 

When we opened on December 15, we welcomed 73 people who otherwise would have come to one of our Code Purple locations this winter. One woman came without her husband because he was in the hospital recovering from serious liver issues. She cried as we did her intake explaining her fear he may not make it. She told us, “We have never been apart. I am scared to be alone.” We assured her she wouldn’t be alone and noted to check in with her daily.

A man came in with bottles of alcohol in every pocket. He looked ready for a party. “You can’t have that with you,” we let him know. He let it all be confiscated as he drunkenly walked into his new home. The next morning, he thanked us for this opportunity. He explained without the Hope Center, he was sure this would have been the winter he died. He’s 56. He’s been suffering from substance abuse for many years. He drinks so much that not drinking without medical assistance would likely kill him. Within a few days we had him connected to the DSAMH Bridge Clinic onsite at the Hope Center. Although it is not a straight road to recovery, he has been in recovery for five weeks now and he’s doing great.

One woman has been living in a state of homelessness for 25 years. She’s very capable of managing the basics of her life, but she is suffering from psychosis of some sort. She lives in fear that someone comes into her room and messes with her belongings. Regularly she will call us expressing her concern. We pull the key logs and verify with her that no one but her has been in the room. And, if someone was, it was to fix a light, her microwave, or to perform weekly housekeeping duties while she remained available to watch. No matter the convincing we do, she still calls us daily to remind us someone is entering her room unannounced. She is an artist, and around the holidays made beautiful picture frames from wooden popsicle sticks and wrote a lovely note thanking us for being so kind.

We have a family of eight at the Hope Center. The mother works downstate and early every morning she takes five of her seven children with her and drops them off with grandparents. Two of those children still attend school in person through a Maryland school district, who has arranged transportation to and from the grandparent’s house. The three younger kids are watched by grandparents. Her oldest two sons, both in high school, are at the Hope Center virtually learning. The oldest boy, who is eighteen years old, has access to a second car and will take himself and his brother to a local park to play basketball. 

The journeys of our guests at the Hope Center are all unique and special. It remains a joy to be their loving, supportive community during this difficult time as they find their way home.