MILLERSBURG -- Love INC of Greater Holmes County has accepted the first family into its Homes of Hope program, and it's only the beginning.
The ministry offers transitional housing for families who find themselves in a housing crisis, said director Vicki Conn, but it also opens up numerous opportunities for volunteers interested in helping out.
Conn first became acquainted with the Homes of Hope program through Love INC in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. But the program idea can be adapted, she said, "so we can tweak it how we see the need in our community."
And there is a need, she said, though the solution might not be for everybody.
"It's for someone who's wanting to move forward in their life," Conn said, and is willing to accept not only the housing, but is willing to take part in the counseling and the classes that are included in the program.
To even be considered, applicants must have a source of income, be in need of housing, willing to go through the Fresh Start mentoring program, attend weekly meetings with a budget coach, be a non-substance abuser, be open to receiving Christian support and be able to keep a home in order.
If accepted, Conn said, the family will be able to live rent- and utility-free, which will give them a chance to save money for a new place or pay off the debt that is keeping them from acquiring a home.
Churches that have agreed to partner in the ministry include Faith Bible Church, Glenmont St. John's United Church of Christ, Martins Creek Mennonite and Millersburg NewPointe.
St. John's is offering its parsonage for the program, said its pastor, Joanna Lance. She does not live there herself and the house has sat generally vacant for some time. But it is furnished, Lance said, so "when a family walks in, they need nothing but their clothes and their personal items they want to bring in."
The church already has served as a disaster relief center and has a food pantry, so participating in Homes of Hope seemed like a natural continuation of its commitment to the community, Lance said.
There also is a duplex in Millersburg that will be available and the Martins Creek congregation has agreed to raise money to purchase housing, Conn said, probably within the year. Other possibilities exist as well, she said.
The relationship between Homes of Hope, which has its own fund with Love INC, and the property owners will be addressed on a case-by-case basis, according to Conn. In some cases, use of the house might be free, while in others a small fee may be charged to Love INC. Love INC would also cover the cost of liability insurance, while the property owner would maintain coverage on the property.
And even once the family leaves the housing, Love INC volunteers will maintain their relationship with the family. "It's a long-term partnership and support," Conn said. "If they don't want people in their lives, they're not going to be (in the program)."
But, she added, it's not as though volunteers will micromanage. "It's about walking together," Conn said, "and holding each other up."
The partner churches have pledged financial help, as well as donated items and help with cleaning, maintenance, mentoring and, of course, prayer. Besides, Conn said, Love INC has 12 gap ministries in its partner churches that will be available. "We've got those layers in place that we can effectively be Homes of Hope," she said, "by God's grace.
For more information about Homes of Hope, contact the Love INC office at 330-473-6017.
Reporter Tami Mosser can be reached at 330-287-1655 or firstname.lastname@example.org. She is @tamimosser on Twitter.