Young Duluth-based nonprofit sees growth

H.O.P.E.’s President and Founder Kenita Pierce-Lewis holds hands with Rainbow Village’s CEO Nancy Yancey. The two nonprofits recently partnered to create the program “Hand in Hand.” (Special Photo)

H.O.P.E.’s President and Founder Kenita Pierce-Lewis holds hands with Rainbow Village’s CEO Nancy Yancey. The two nonprofits recently partnered to create the program “Hand in Hand.” (Special Photo)

DULUTH — Since its formation in 2009, Helping Other People Be Empowered, an up-and-coming nonprofit based in Duluth, has grown faster than its founder imagined.

“We went from $11,000 the year before in donations to having two foundation grants and tripling our revenue,” founder Kenita Pierce-Lewis said about 2013. “Before I knew it, I received $50,000 from them and then grants started pouring into our organization.”

The program’s mission is “serving low-income single parents working to obtain a college degree by providing assistance in subsidized housing, child care assistance, social services and life skills.”

In May, Kingdom Investments donated $50,000 to the organization — but H.O.P.E. needs to match the funds.

“I felt so alone at the time when Kingdom Investments came around,” Pierce-Lewis said. “I felt like I know this is a great program. Every time I talk to people, they fall in love with the program. But no one that was … a part of other successful organizations either didn’t understand what we did or they didn’t believe in us because ‘we didn’t have a certain number.’”

So, she took charge. She learned how to write grants and has gotten six approved out of 61 proposed. Ida Alice Ryan Charitable Trust granted $2,500, Mary Allen Lindsey Branan Foundation, Inc. donated $2,500 and an anonymous contributor gave the nonprofit $5,000.

With the additional funds, Pierce-Lewis wanted to learn more about other successful organizations that she could learn from to help more people.

“I went online to find nonprofits that are similar to our cause to talk with the CEOs,” she said. “That’s when I found Rainbow Village.”

After their first meeting, Rainbow Village’s CEO Nancy Yancey took Pierce-Lewis under her wing as a mentor. Now, the two nonprofits have created a partnership called the Hand in Hand Program.

“We’ve partnered with Rainbow Village to help her high school graduates or people in the program that are interested in college, to place them in our program and offer that support to them,” Pierce-Lewis said. “They can not only transition from being a homeless single parent, but can actually be a college student, which they probably thought they’d ever do.

“This came about because of the high respect I have for (Nancy) and the great respect she has for me and the love for what each other is doing.”

Two people from Rainbow Village have joined the program. One begins class in the fall, the other in spring.

Pierce-Lewis hopes to help 10 single parents this semester. With the help of volunteers, Pierce-Lewis is able to provide H.O.P.E. parents with subsidized housing vouchers (not exceeding $400 a month) and child care vouchers (not exceeding $100 a week) while they are attending an accredited college. H.O.P.E. does not pay for the schooling.

Although the program is designed for both sexes, not everyone is able to participate in the program. Applicants must pass the initial screening process and must be a U.S. citizen, a single parent, a high school graduate (or GED), must be employed full- or part-time for at least six months and must show financial need.

When they’re accepted, they must be a part of a two- of four-year degree program at an accredited school and maintain a 2.7 grade-point average or higher. If you fall below a “B” average, you are taken out of the program.

While H.O.P.E. continues to grow, Pierce-Lewis and her team are constantly thinking of new ways to expand and help their clients. In the future, the nonprofit hopes to build a day care center and subsidized housing, plus help with transportation needs and food issues, and eventually make the program national.

The nonprofit needs to raise an additional $29,000 to match its grant. If you’d like to donate or for more information about H.O.P.E., visit www.hopbe.org.