Doors of Hope Transition Ministries offers a new vision for helping homeless families in Oxford.
Written by Ginny McCarley
Sherry Williams-Jenkins, founder of Doors of Hope Transition Ministries, originally felt called to help the homeless in Oxford when she served on a task force organized by then Mayor Richard Howorth in 2010.
“My heart has just compelled me to work on it,” Williams-Jenkins said.
Williams-Jenkins, a licensed social worker who at the time was teaching on the Tupelo campus of the University of Mississippi, began researching shelters and decided to develop a program that focused on a long-term solution rather than simply short-term housing.
From the beginning, the organization has moved quickly and efficiently: In October of 2010, the community elected to go forward with the plan. In November, Williams-Jenkins met with interested people and gathered funding from local churches and one generous, anonymous donor who provided money for three apartments. Doors of Hope held its first organized board meeting in March of 2011, hired a social worker in June of the same year, and shortly after received its nonprofit status. The first client moved into a fully furnished apartment in July of 2011.
Since that first client, Doors of Hope has provided life-skills training, mentoring, and supportive housing for 17 local families, with three families currently enrolled in the program.
During their four to six months in Doors of Hope’s self-sufficiency transitional empowerment program, families live in a fully furnished apartment, with rent and utilities paid, while working and meeting regularly with a social worker. The program helps the families keep up with all of the money they make, while learning to budget and plan for the future. Families invest 30 percent of their earnings in an escrow account in order to have money for a deposit and first month’s rent for their own apartment at the end of the program.
“We try to get them thinking from the very beginning how to prioritize their money, and how bills can get paid,” Williams-Jenkins said.
In the end, every single family that has successfully completed the program has had the money to afford an apartment.
However, Doors of Hope doesn’t just help families with their finances; it also helps families manage their personal health.
“It’s hard to help people understand just how many aspects of their life we look at,” Williams-Jenkins said.
The program arranges health and dental appointments and provides flu shots, which are essential for families working hourly jobs, often with no paid sick leave and little help with childcare.
“It provides a little bit of respite, a safe haven, and a lot of education and structure,” Suzanne Wilkin, Doors of Hope Transition Ministries board chair, said. “I love watching the transformation of someone who comes into the program and they feel so defeated, so inadequate, and watching them blossom into someone who sees their potential. Doors of Hope is an avenue and opportunity for us to show them that this doesn’t have to be your way of life.”
The program receives funding from a number of organizations, including United Way, individual donors, businesses, area churches and service groups. In addition, the organization’s original anonymous donor continues to donate rent and utilities for the three shelter units while Doors of Hope establishes funding.
In August, the ministry hosted its third annual fundraiser, A Summer Bounty, which has grown tremendously since its inception. In 2013, the benefit raised $10,000, and in 2014 it raised $20,000. This year, the event raised more than $50,000.
“We just had a wonderful event,” said Ann Abadie, who co-chaired the committee for the event. “We’re hoping to do the same thing next year with even more people.”
The event was held at the Powerhouse, with a meal for 125 donated by chef Kelly English, who recently opened the Second Line in Oxford. A silent auction featured more than 10 unique items, including a sculpture by Ron Dale and a dinner for 20 at Oxford Treehouse Gallery.
“We feel that we are moving towards helping to support ourselves working with these families,” Abadie said.
For Williams-Jenkins, the best part of founding and working with the ministry is the opportunity to facilitate multigenerational change, as well as provide stability for families in need.
“We’re helping the mom and also the children,” Williams-Jenkins said. “They’ll be in a place that’s calm and have a roof over their head. The joy [in the children’s] faces when they see the apartment that’s just for their family is incredible. You see that you can give hope to these families. You can provide a new vision that sometimes they haven’t been able to see.”
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