The One Who Shows Mercy
By: Lydia Novak
In 1987, a group of determined Christians gathered together in Coatesville, Pennsylvania to discover how they could help make a difference in the lives of women and children at risk of homelessness. Representatives from all different churches came together to combine a three-way ministry to help these families get back on their feet again. However, instead of giving these families a loan or financial gift, it became an eighteen to twenty-four month process to help these families reset and figure out new life patterns.
Two years later, the first single mother and her child were paired with “Neighboring Volunteers.” Word got out and calls were coming in from every direction. Everyone wanted to be a part of this new ministry guided around service and giving single mothers a second shot at their lives. Thus, Bridge of Hope was born. Today, Bridge of Hope has expanded to thirteen states in nineteen different locations around the country.
Upon meeting with The Valley, I learned how intricate the process is to become Neighboring Volunteers. It’s not for everyone. It’s for people with complete open hearts ready to serve others despite the choices they may have made. Bridge of Hope is not meant to condemn single mothers for where they went wrong but instead educate them on what they can do going forward. Many Christian communities attest they can handle the task, but to completely open yourself to someone without judgement and with nothing in return is harder than one might think.
Providing social equity for a single mother and her children comes in four categories: Opening your eyes, opening your heart, opening your handing and opening your doors. To open one’s eyes is to ask yourself “How can I enter into a relationship with openness to a family who is homeless?” It requires transparency and patience. It may be a shock to witness the living conditions a homeless single mother might be in but the experience is mutually beneficial. As a Neighboring Volunteer, you are guiding her while enhancing your own humility.
To open one’s heart comes at a personal pace. That is when the volunteer needs to ask themselves “how vulnerable can I be with this family?” This comes from both sides. Certain mothers and children will be very open with their neighboring volunteers while others may not. Gauging how open the mother wants to be is tricky but it is important to let her and her children know you are there for support and to help her. Bringing a new member into your “home” per say, especially when they come from a tough background is always an individualized process that will vary per experience. The Neighboring Volunteers and in this case The Valley’s number one goal is to show the mother they are there for support.
To open one’s hands is the physical aspect of Bridge of Hope. It is asking yourself as a neighboring volunteer “how can I offer physical assistance?” This is anywhere from providing physical transportation, helping watch her kids while she looks for a job or has a doctor’s appointment, helping the family move, helping with meals during a transition or helping build a resume. The wonderful part of Bridge of Hope is there are no “strict guidelines” to offering your help if the mother needs. It is important in this process to offer her whatever physical help she may need.
Lastly, opening one’s doors is bringing in one’s own connections. One’s social networks are meant to help yourself as well as others create connection and opportunity. Your social capital is at your disposal for you to help others. It’s important that when helping the mother look for assistance, possible working positions or even just another person to talk to, that is when you bring in your connections. Neighboring Volunteers are meant to offer guidance no matter what form it’s in: emotional, physical, professional etc.
To be a “Neighboring Volunteer,” one must present certain skills. They must know and exemplify the difference between active and reflective listening. They must understand the importance of confidentiality and that Bridge of Hope is centered around it. They also must understand and respect healthy boundaries. This is handled by creating a non-judgemental, non-forceful environment for the families and asking them what would help them be more comfortable.
Bridge of hope is about helping families and single mothers in as many ways possible. They help with finding a job, child care support, financial counseling, advice on struggling issues, all through their Neighboring Volunteers. Much of the time, the families have gone through multiple traumatic scenarios, so it is important to keep the support the number one priority. It is Bridge of Hope’s job to show single mothers and their children that it’s never too late for a second shot at life. It’s never too late to start looking up.
The logistics of Bridge of Hope and The Valley are still incomplete. However, the members of The Valley will be matched up with their family before January. After this, the members of The Valley who decide to be Neighboring Volunteers will meet with the mother every other month. They will discuss her projects and what steps she will need to be taking going forward, whether that means financial planning, getting help watching her children, looking for a home or even just grocery shopping. In addition to this, the neighboring volunteers as well as The Neighboring Volunteers are there to help her come up with these plans and give her support wherever she may need it.
My biggest takeaway from learning about Bridge of Hope was the ultimate act of selflessness that the Neighboring Volunteers put forward. They take a very large portion of their lives and devote it to helping a family they’ve never met rebuild their lives. When I think about the work that Bridge of Hope is doing it reminds me of the verse: 1 Peter 4:10 which is “Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms.” The Valley is devoted to uniting others through God’s love and I can’t imagine a better way to honor that than through Bridge of Hope.