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Friends in Hope reaches a fork in the road

Members discuss joining forces with Neighbors Helping Neighbors

Published: Friday, Nov. 3, 2017 10:18 a.m. CST • Updated: Friday, Nov. 3, 2017 10:48 a.m. CST
Caption
(David Dolmage/Daily News)
Newton resident Gary Martin listens as Friends in Hope director Linda Curtis-Stolper talks during the monthly meeting of FIH. Facing declining interest the group is considering a merger with Neighbors Helping Neighbors, another local advocacy group for Newton’s needy.

Facing an uncertain future, Friends in Hope, a loose organization of community volunteers who work with needy residents, is considering aligning itself with Neighbors Helping Neighbors, a homeless advocacy group that has begun meeting in Newton. Linda Curtis-Stolper, the director of Friends in Hope, said she isn’t sure what direction the group will take in the future, but the need for the services that Friends in Hope provides still remains.

“Goodness knows the problem is not declining, we’ve been called to do what we can to help,” Curtis-Stolper said.

Attendance at Friends in Hope’s monthly meetings, held on the first Wednesday of the month, have been in decline since the group’s founders Robyn Taylor and Marilyn Terlouw, stepped away from the group. There are 18 names on the Friends in Hope email list, which Curtis-Stolper considers the group roster, but only four members were present at Wednesday’s meeting. The group’s checking account has a balance of less than $100, and Curtis-Stolper said she’d been forced to turn down several requests to provide motel rooms in the past month.

“I don’t know whether or not interest is declining or simply transferring, or if it’s just part of the life cycle,” Curtis-Stolper said. “It goes great guns for awhile and then volunteers start getting less eager to volunteer.”

In an email sent out to the group prior to Wednesday’s meeting, Curtis-Stolper urged members to come to the meeting so they could have a discussion about the future of the organization. The organization, which has always been loosely organized, has never been established as a 501(c)3 charitable organization, and Curtis-Stolper said she didn’t anticipate formally dissolving the group.

“We wouldn’t need anything as formal as a vote, it’s more about coming to a consensus,” Curtis-Stolper said.

Gary Marzolf, the pastor at First United Methodist, said he’d like to see Goos and some of the other organizers from Neighbors Helping Neighbors participate in meetings with FIH volunteers. In his vision, FIH could potentially become the executive committee of NHN, but he’s not ready to call for disbanding the group yet.

“We could talk about pooling our resources, but we still need all of these groups because there are so many projects,” Marzolf said “There’s going to be a transitional period, it’s exciting to see all these new ideas coming into the community.”

Marzolf, who attended the first meeting of the group that would become NHN, said he was initially turned off by the group’s approach. In the beginning, David Goos and members of NHN asked local churches to contribute between $3,000 to $5,000 toward the creation of a day center for homeless in the community and provide staff for the facility, something Marzolf saw as unrealistic.

Curtis-Stolper, who has attended all of the meetings for Neighbors Helping Neighbors, said she has a good relationship with David Goos, the leader of the NHN group, and she’s supportive of their efforts to combat homelessness in Newton. Still, she believes the mission of FIH is different than NHN. Many of those who are supported by FIH are not homeless, and therefore won’t fall the scope of NHN. Whereas NHN paints a broad brush, Curtis-Stolper pointed out that FIH is focused on a more personal level of contact.

“Somehow to me, NHN sounds like short-term goals, a laundry night, food recovery program,” Curtis-Stolper said. “With FIH, maybe it’s the history, but I see is a deeper, more sustained kind of relationship.”

At FIH, volunteers work as mentors, making themselves available to help those in need no matter what the issue is. Curtis-Stolper cited examples such as helping someone sell their house, or handle legal proceedings like a divorce or custody battle. The need for the assistance FIH provides is an ongoing need in her opinion. Still, that doesn’t mean Curtis-Stolper isn’t willing to join forces with NHN, in a role that she imagines would possibly be as a subcommittee of the larger organization.

“I think FIH will have a role to play eventually, but some things need to happen first,” Curtis-Stolper said.

Contact David Dolmage at 641-792-3121 ext. 6532 or ddolmage@newtondailynews.com

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