By RORYE O’CONNOR
MT. VERNON —
Ten years ago, Hope Stuckey found her calling.
A Centralia native, but a more than 30-year resident of Mt. Vernon, Stuckey was volunteering her time as a street minister in Mt. Vernon with the First Church of God when she saw a need for a homeless shelter.
“I saw people standing in abandoned houses,” she said. “We had the building. I thought it would be nice if people could stay the night, take a bath and get up about their business, but it became more than that.”
Stuckey’s homeless shelter in Mt. Vernon, Hope in Christ Ministries, has served more than 1,800 people through shelter or food pantry donations in its 10 years, Stuckey said.
She works nights as a nurse at White Oak Nursing Home, she said, and spends her days helping area homeless and people coming through the area.
She said free time isn’t really an issue for her.
“My free time and my love is the church and the shelter,” she said. “You can find me at one of the two places.”
In 2011, a two-bedroom transitional home will open under Stuckey’s guiding hand, which will allow families to stay for longer periods of time than the original homeless shelter. Stuckey renovated a house in Mt. Vernon with the help of many volunteers, as an answer to another need she saw in the Mt. Vernon community.
Families who are vetted through the Hope in Christ Ministries homeless shelter may stay at the transitional home as long as 30 days.
She said she has had challenges during her time as the administrator of the Hope in Christ Ministries shelter.
“The hardest thing is when you see families, especially with children,” she said. “It’s hard to see a man that doesn’t have a job and can’t support his family.”
She said the homeless she helps often have compound problems — not just the loss of a job, but an injury from a car accident or during combat that prohibits the person from easily finding a job.
“We take males and females, but most of the people we see are men,” she said. “We’ve had people with master’s degrees, who lost a job or messed up their credit card, anything. They need more than shelter, they need a place to stay.”
Stuckey said the success stories she can tell are rewarding, however.
She mentioned several veterans who came through the doors of her homeless shelter.
“It took a long time for them to get help, but they’re back on their feet again,” she said. “They served their country and came back to hard times, and sometimes it’s hard for (veterans) to get help.”
Stuckey said the many volunteers who have assisted her throughout the years have been crucial.
She said for five to eight years, Youth Services of America has provided youngsters who do yard work, and many organizations have stepped forward on Make A Difference Day.
She said many Christians, during Lent, often offer extra assistance to the shelter as well as other faith-based organizations.
“Trinity Episcopal and Christian Fellowship Church have adopted the shelter as a mission program,” she said. “They donated some of the furniture. Youth Build was a really big help.”
“We’ve got a pretty good support,” she said, listing assistance from everyone from the Girl Scouts to local carpet businesses. “We just need more financial support. We do have community service at our place, too.”
Stuckey said her biggest help is her assistant director and mother, Minnie Miller of Centralia.
“She is my biggest supporter,” she said. “She helps me with everything; she’s the one who gave us the name (Hope in Christ Ministries).”
Stuckey has her eye on the future, anticipating the opening of the transitional home. She just needs new storm doors and a door on the shower for the home to be complete and ready for residents to move in, she said.
She said she hopes the house will be completed by March 31, after which an open house will be scheduled.
In addition, there will be a 10th anniversary celebration on April 9 at the Rolland Lewis Community Building at Veterans Park. Tickets are $20 and $10 for children younger than 12.
Stuckey said seeing a person gain hope after spending time at the shelter is extremely valuable.
“When you see people leave the shelter with hope — a man got cleaned up, put on some clean clothes, and said, ‘Now I feel like a man, feel like I can go out and conquer the world,’” Stuckey said. “You can’t pay that, no price for that.”