Home of Hope

Mable Hershey, left, and her husband John stand outside Our Home of Hope, a personal care facility, in Columbia.

THE ISSUE

Facing financial challenges, Cherry Street Guest Home in Columbia, which houses people who are vulnerable, including the formerly homeless, has been given new life. With the help of an East Donegal Township couple, the licensed personal care facility was recently organized as a charity and is now Our Home of Hope.

People frequently complain that we don’t print enough good news in the newspaper. LNP reporter Jeff Hawkes’ Christmas Day article on how the struggling Cherry Street Guest Home was saved from possible closure and became Our Home of Hope certainly qualifies as good news — and is enough to warm even the coldest heart.

Since 2001, Roxanne Simonson has operated the facility for low-income residents in a Victorian-era house at 223-225 Cherry St.

We applaud her unwavering commitment to provide shelter and sustenance — a true home — to individuals society has generally forgotten.

However, revenue she received from the 28 to 30 people living there eventually became inadequate to cover property taxes and necessary repairs.

Several times, Simonson informed residents that the home might have to close.

“I used to hate to have those meetings,” she told Hawkes. “I love these people. They’re my family. I’ve sat with them through illnesses. Me and my son (A.J. Billet, an employee) sat with them through death.”

In addition to the homeless, Simonson told LNP she also takes in those whose behaviors don’t mesh with the rules of other personal care facilities.

“I was always known as the second-chance home,” Simonson said.

Linda Forwood, who lives on disability benefits and has resided at the home for a decade, told Hawkes: “They treat us good. They treat me like I’m somebody.”

Enter John and Mable Hershey. The retirees were familiar with Cherry Street Guest Home because a friend who had been homeless was well treated there. So when they learned of Simonson’s plight, they decided to act.

“We both recognized that if somebody didn’t take hold of this, it was going to close,” Mable Hershey told LNP.

The Hersheys and Simonson reorganized the business as a charity, and, in June, Cherry Street Guest Home was reborn as Our Home of Hope. This month, the mortgage holder sold the property to the newly formed nonprofit.

As volunteer board members, the Hersheys pay the bills, hire contractors and raise funds to supplement the average payment per resident of $1,115 a month for a shared room and three meals a day.

Simonson is the home’s administrator, overseeing a staff of 11 and devoting her time to what she enjoys: caring for the residents, some of whom treat her like a mother.

“I love my mommy, Roxanne,” Kay Wilson, who arrived last year from Water Street Mission, told Hawkes. “I can talk to her about anything.”

We’re grateful to the Hersheys for stepping into the breach and working with Simonson to keep the home open. In this holiday season of counting one’s blessings, the home’s residents must surely be counting them.

Now the larger community — after learning of Simonson’s mission from board members spreading the word — is chipping in. People are donating money and labor to help put Our Home of Hope on a more solid financial footing.

Board chairwoman Mable Hershey told Hawkes the story of how one donor even wrote out a $10,000 check on the spot after the two of them struck up a conversation at a Sam’s Club.

Grants of $60,000 from the Columbia Healthcare Foundation and $40,000 from other donors paid for a handicap-accessible bath, two furnaces, a water heater, roofing, furnishings and other necessities.

In addition, the home was able to give full-time staff a raise from $8.30 an hour to $10 an hour.

“We just felt (Our Home of Hope) was something that was really needed for the folks who lived there,” especially those from Columbia, William Kloidt, a bank manager and member of the Columbia Healthcare Foundation, told LNP. “We determined we need to help them as much as we can.”

“We have come a long way, but we are not out of the woods completely,” Mable Hershey told Hawkes.

For example, the home’s exterior requires painting, new windows and trim, a project that could exceed $100,000.

Also on the to-do list are paying off the $191,000 mortgage, upgrading the kitchen and increasing activities for residents, almost half of whom are older than 60.

“I have a lot of faith that (outside support) will continue and this home will be able to flourish,” John Hershey told LNP.

We share his faith, too, along with a fervent wish that Our Home of Hope will continue to live up to its new name.

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