By Teri Carnicelli
Festive balloons adorned the purple-draped tables as people of all ages slowly filed into the church auditorium on the night of April 3. They were all there to honor a single person: Crystal Thomas, the first graduate of The Bridge to Hope (B2H).
The vision of The Bridge to Hope is to end homelessness, one family at a time, by working with a partner Christian church to take a vested interest in a single mother and her children in crisis—a family that has lost hope and direction. The mothers that come into the program may have experienced domestic violence, a financial crisis or are recovering from substance abuse.
Launched in January 2012, Bridge to Hope provides an avenue for a church to motivate their members to directly aid homeless women and children by encouraging them along the road to recovery from homelessness. Each mother and her children are mentored by a church team, which comes along beside her and her family to encourage and assist her. In Thomas’ case, her church partner was La Casa de Christo Lutheran Church in Scottsdale.
“The most valuable part of my experience has been the strong mentoring and encouragement to move forward, as well as the friendships I have made,” says Thomas, whose two youngest children, ages 4 and 23 months, are now living with her in her own rental condo. “Bridge to Hope has allowed me to have a fresh start for myself and my family, and has given me the tools I will need to succeed.”
To qualify for the B2H program, the mother must meet minimal requirements, including being willing and able to work full-time. The program offers each mother training in skills needed to maintain a full-time job and establish a savings account.
Mothers also must be drug free prior to entering the housing ministry. In fact, some of the women in the program have been referred by drug counselors from local treatment programs.
The Bridge to Hope also provides emergency services, crisis intervention, group and one-to-one counseling, and food and clothing to the families in the program. B2H matches families with volunteer teams for guidance, mentorship and emotional support.
B2H is considered a parachurch organization, meaning it is a faith-based ministry that works outside of and across denominations to engage in social welfare. It’s AmySueSeiser’s job to find those church partners. As director of The Bridge to Hope, Seiser works with the church teams, supports the B2H case managers, and provides general leadership to the program.
The Bridge to Hope is a registered nonprofit organization, which means that cash donations qualify for the Arizona Working Poor Tax Credit. As a nonprofit, B2H relies solely on financial donations from its church partners and individuals, Seiser explains.
Right now, the program is assisting two women, but has the capacity to serve up to four. Each woman is enrolled in the program for up to two years. Housing is provided in a central Phoenix apartment complex, and once the woman has obtained a job, she also contributes to her rental fees.
“The first year of the program is focused on overcoming those barriers that brought them into the program in the first place, including domestic violence issues, substance abuse issues, and poverty or homelessness,” says B2H case manager Sallie Jarboe.
The church mentors help model things like healthy relationships, and men who are responsible and reliable—“dads who stay around for their kids,” Sallie explains. They become the strong, nurturing family that the woman might not have ever had, she adds.
Graduation from The Bridge to Hope is an exciting turning point in each family’s life. Mothers leave the program with a job, a start at creating healthy credit, a savings account, vocational training, and affordable housing. Each family also exits with knowledge of how to utilize community resources.
Thomas is now working in the employment services field, helping people to fill out resumes and search for jobs. She says that as someone who has been there herself, the guidance and advice she offers job seekers rings much more true, because “I’ve gone through similar challenges and can show them that there is hope, there is a light at the end of the tunnel.”
The Bridge to Hope is located at 1815 W. Missouri Ave., #105. Christian churches in the Phoenix metro area are encouraged to learn more about B2H and the women it serves by contacting Amy Sue Seiser at 602-589-5556 or firstname.lastname@example.org. In addition, a list of ongoing needs, such as toiletries, diapers and women and children’s clothing, can be found on the organization’s website: www.b2hope.org.