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Women from Project Hope at a retreat

How Project Hope is Helping Women Out of Poverty and Violent Situations

hope in the darkest of times

This spring, we’ve seen and used the word “hope” a lot. We’re hopeful that the coronavirus and all the restrictions that have been imposed will go away. We’re hopeful that our families will be safe and supported. We’re hopeful that the businesses that have had to close will be able to financially recover.

But there’s another side to this situation that you may not have thought about: families living in poverty and/or abusive home situations. How do they stay home if home isn’t safe? How do they provide for their families? How do they have hope?

The nonprofit organization The Storehouse of Collin County offers Project Hope (there it is again), a program that helps build relationships with women in need to help get them through crises.

We spoke to Jackie Welchman, director of Project Hope and Ben Skye, director of communications and culture, about the program’s efforts.

Tell me about Project Hope. How does it reach women in difficult situations? JW: So, we’re a relational ministry. We wholeheartedly believe that relationships are the vehicle for change. We’re unique from other people out in the community; whereas they are either specialized on domestic violence or homeless, transitional housing or something like that. We’re more kind of personalized and holistic. We seek to cultivate relationships and bring change through those relationships.

How do you create those relationships? JW: We have three levels. [First], an individual comes from an outside agency here or they come through [the food pantry]. We meet them and talk with them and tell them how we work and then we provide them with a referral to the Assistance Center of Collin County.

[In level two], say that same individual we provided the referral with comes back and says, “Hey, they were able to help me, that was fantastic, I’m trying to get to a job interview, do you know of anyone that can help me with that?” We might give them a gas card, and then, at that point, we might invite them to an event. We might say, “Hey, you might benefit from yoga. Why don’t you come to yoga on Wednesday nights?”

And level three? JW: Level three is our yearlong transformational program, which you probably hear more about. They go through the levels based on their level of engagement. So, they get a mentor assigned to them that we call a PH [Project Hope] friend. They get a money habits coach, a person that has some level of financial expertise and helps them with budgeting; then they [get] engaged in counseling.

They [also] get $50 in Walmart cards and $50 in gas cards a month. They also have a reserved kind of budget, so that goes to medical bills sometimes … or housing, job wardrobe, car repairs. [Then we invite them to] cultural events. And those are family events, so kiddos can come.

Do most of the women have kids? JW: Oh, most of them. BS: I would say 50% of them are single mothers and generally either they have left an abusive relationship, or it is just tragedy. We have a few that are widows that lost their husbands. JW: Or some have lost children.

Why do you focus so much on the relational aspect and the events? BS: What we try to remind folks philosophically, is [that those are] important for a lot of these women and families in these situations—isolation is a big part of what really drives the sense that “I am alone; no one goes through this. I am the only one that’s facing all this.” The vehicle for change is relationships. It’s building community for these [women]. A lot of these women connect when they’re at these events. They begin to share, they begin to come out of their shell, they begin to develop that confidence again.

Do you think the relationships they create with other women are just as beneficial as the relationships they create with you and the counselors? BS: Yeah. We had a story of these two ladies that connected because they both had lost children. They’re forever bonded. JW: I can do counseling with them, but it’s not the same thing. It’s very different than you sitting next to me and saying, “Do you feel that way?” And I can say, “Yeah, I feel that way.”

BS: [Also,] one woman talked about how she was raped by her husband’s friend and told no one for 40 years. So, it’s narratives like that, it’s trauma like that that comes to the surface. Then you see them, it gives you this sense of, “Wow! You mean you’ve been carrying that for 40 years and you continued to live and face trials and tribulations day to day?” So you really come out of that program with a lot of respect for just how strong some of these women are, and you realize the little support that we’re giving makes a world of difference for them.

Do you have a rough estimate of how many women in your program have experienced sexual or domestic violence? JW: I don’t know that I have a number. I would say the majority are both [poverty and some form of violence], because I think what I’ve found is that survivors of violence are usually women who are the head of household, and since they are women in the head of household, they’re earning less income. So they’re experiencing poverty as well. A lot of times, I’ve also seen that poverty leads to women going back to the violent situation.

BS: [But] the violence may not be the immediate relationship or the most recent relationship; it could always be something that is two or three relationships ago. It could have been that they grew up in an environment where there was violence, but when we talk to them, there’s always some kind of trauma within their story.

Since you’re located in Plano and serve Collin County, have you noticed a collective mindset of “There’s nothing wrong here”? JW: Oh, absolutely. I think there’s also the turning a blind eye, that we live in Collin County, so we don’t experience homelessness. We don’t experience poverty. So that’s part of the problem. There definitely needs to be more awareness about what’s going on here.

BS: The woman who designed this program, Deborah Hill, would tell you that exposure and education are a big part of why the program [was designed] the way it is, to invite church members and invite privileged, high upper to upper middle class individuals to get involved and take action and to make a difference within their own communities.

So how can they do that? JW: [When it’s safe to do so,] I say volunteer or stop by and see me. Come in and say hi. Let me introduce you to what we do and show you what I do. It’s a way of being with people. It’s a way that you treat them. Come meet them with curiosity rather than judgment.

To learn more or to get involved, visit Project Hope’s website or contact Jackie Welchman at 469/385-1824.

Photo courtesy of The Storehouse of Collin County.