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Generosity helps New Hope serve neighbors

Jeanna Swanson oversees outreach at New Hope Resource Center.

By Catherine Ferguson SNJM

In her 16 years of volunteering and two years as part-time director of New Hope Resource Center in Colbert, Jeanna Swanson has been impressed with the generosity of church and community members who share their funds and resources, and who volunteer their time.

"Without them New Hope wouldn't exist," she said.

The New Hope Resource Center is a faith-based ecumenical social service organization supported by 14 local churches and the community. It helps meet the basic human needs of people living in North Spokane County, which includes the communities of Riverside, Elk, Chattaroy, Colbert and Mead.

"Prior to becoming the director," Jeanna commented, "I had done everything else at the center at least once."

Despite that, she acknowledged that she had many new things to learn when she became director. It was more challenging because the first and only director had moved on after training someone else as an interim. It has taken Jeanna two years to feel confident in her role as director in an organization where everyone else works as a volunteer.

"I have now done all of the seasonal events, some grant writing and various reports, and I am beginning to feel like I know what needs to be done."

Jeanna grew up in the Colbert area and went to Washington State University where she became a registered dietician. She also met her husband, Ben, there, and the two went to the West Side of the state for her husband's job and her internship.

After a few years her mother was diagnosed with a spinal tumor. A surgery left her partially paralyzed and in need of more support than she could provide from across the state.  After consulting with her husband, they decided to move back to the Spokane area.

"I was thrilled to come back to Spokane," Jeanna admitted.

Once she arrived, she began to look for a volunteer opportunity that would have a mission she could believe in and would allow the flexibility she needed to support for her mother and care for her then one-year-old son Daniel. 

New Hope Resource Center, at the time one year old, met those  needs for her. Through the years she took on many different volunteer roles: client services coordinator, distribution of school supplies and donations for seasonal events and ongoing needs of the center. Immediately prior to her appointment as director, she served on the joint Board of Directors for the New Hope Resource Center and the North County Food Pantry in Elk. 

Both the New Hope Resource Center and the North County Food Pantry each operate with one part-time paid employee and the rest of their services are provided by volunteers.

The center is open from 9:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. on Tuesdays and Thursdays. 

As director, she meets each new client who comes, gets to know them, explains how the program works and tries to see if the center can help them meet their basic needs like rental and utilities assistance, gas money every six months, clothing, toiletries and household supplies, In some cases, they assist with prescription medication. The center also provides chore and transportation assistance for seniors and people who are disabled.

Jeanna also takes evening appointments for people unable to come during the day-time hours.

"I feel like I have succeeded in making people feel welcome if they are willing to come back for what they need," she said.

The center's fiscal year ends on June 30 and by the end of April it has served 566 different people. They represent about 280 households.

Seventy percent of households New Hope serves are extremely low income and have an annual income of less than $23,150 for a family of four.

Since COVID and the rise of inflation, most struggle to pay rent, utilities and still get the food, toiletries and other supplies they need to survive.

Some have become homeless because of the increase in lot rents in the mobile home parks where they previously lived.

"Medical issues and disabilities are some of the reasons that bring our clients to us as the only service provider in North Spokane County," Jeanna explained.

Others come while they are looking for work. Many young mothers in the area want to work and are both frustrated and discouraged when they have filled out 50 or 60 job applications but have only one or two requests for interviews—and then rarely any call backs or job offers.

Some have made ends meet by becoming shoppers with the Instacart app that pays people to shop for others in their area.

She tells a success story that exemplifies for her how important New Hope Resource Center is in the lives of those it serves.

Last winter, New Hope received a grant from Empire Health Foundation to enhance its services to the homeless. 

With this money they were able to offer an extended hotel stay to a couple in a difficult situation.

They had become homeless, evicted because the person who was collecting their rent did so illegally. They had also been traumatized because the husband, who was present when his father committed suicide, was taken to jail. The trauma led to his beginning to self-medicate and becoming addicted to drugs. The center took a chance on this couple and used part of the grant to provide them a temporary home through an extended hotel stay. 

The chance paid off and because of their effort, the couple were treated for addiction, found employment and eventually built their own cement business, which is now successful and gives them the stability they needed to turn their lives around.They have also begun to attend church again and give back to the community through service there.

Next year New Hope will celebrate its 20th anniversary of providing services to North Spokane County.

Jeanna is grateful for all that New Hope Resource Center can do because of the support it receives. She said it welcomes donations of toiletries, and men's and women's clothing. It also needs more volunteers to provide chore and transportation services.

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Copyright@ The Fig Tree, June, 2022