Giving home and hope in Gwinnett County

How Home of Hope celebrates its history and moves toward a changing future

It was a tall order. 

After 26 years of serving the community, Gwinnett Children’s Shelter wasn’t just changing roles. It was changing leaders, too.

“I came here through God-ordered steps, for sure,” said Maureen Kornowa, Home of Hope’s executive director. “I was running another nonprofit at the time and God kind of led me in this direction.”

But stepping into the role of CEO and Executive Director back in 2013 wasn’t just about leading the Buford shelter. It was also about guiding the shelter in a completely new direction.

Since its start, Gwinnett Children’s Shelter had been a state-contracted shelter for youth transitioning to foster care. But that all changed in 2013. That’s when it shifted to become a privately-funded home for young moms and their children experiencing homelessness.

“I was brought on board to close down the old program that was Gwinnett Children’s Shelter and take us in a new direction,” explained Maureen. “Part of that vision was to morph us into Home of Hope.”

But how would they connect 25-plus years of community service with a new vision for sharing hope?

Sharing a new vision

“We started looking for a new name or a word to describe what we were doing,” recalled Maureen. “And hope was one of those words. It just rang true for most of us — and for me — because that’s what we were doing here. We were instilling hope where people felt hopeless.”

For Maureen and her team, it was all about sharing the gift of home.

“There’s also this negative, cold feeling around a shelter. It feels institutional,” she added. “We wanted this to be home. A place of refuge. So, ‘Home of Hope’ was a natural progression.”

But Home of Hope is more than a moniker. It’s a way of life.

“We wanted everything around here — the colors, the message — to be warm and welcoming,” said Maureen. “Holidays are celebrated. Christmas trees are put up in the houses. Everybody cares about everybody like family.”

That family-style philosophy extends to the Home of Hope team, too.

 “Every person here on the team at Home of Hope has a servant’s heart,” she said. “We do what we do because we care about people. We’re a family here and we treat every family that comes here as one of our own.”

Welcome to the family

Being part of a family makes a major difference. 

“Our goal is to take someone who is maybe feeling less than or down-trodden and to instill that hope,” said Maureen. “That hope also comes from having positive people around them. Telling them: ‘You can do it. This is just temporary. God sees you.’ That is infectious.”

Sharing hope is also an individual process.

“We do an assessment when a family comes in,” she said. “Is there situational poverty? Or generational poverty? Do they need just 4-6 months to get back on their feet? Or are they coming out of a life where they are not seeing a way out?”

After the initial assessment, it’s all about creating opportunities for lasting change.

“For those with generational poverty, we teach these young ladies what it takes for sustainability,” explained Maureen. “It may be as basic as structure. Their kids need parenting structure. Have dinner, a bath and go to bed. Or it can be as basic as needing employment within 30 days and setting up a budget.”

Everything that’s offered through Home of Hope — food, shelter, customized life plans and more — comes with both purpose and a dose of positive accountability.

“Everything we do here is purposeful and intentional — to guide families toward independence,” she said. “The ultimate goal being when they leave they’ll transition into stable housing and they’ll know they can maintain. They’ll be able to pick an apartment they know they can afford. They’ll have savings — a nest egg if something happens.”

It’s a feeling of independence that’s contagious.

“When you teach a mom to be independent, she passes that along to her children,” added Maureen. “They won’t know the extended hotel life or sleeping in the car because mom taught them [these skills]. They break the cycle of homelessness. That’s a win-win for everybody.”

So, what’s the best part about helping these Gwinnett families discover newfound independence? 

For Maureen, that answer is easy.

“It’s the kids. Everything we do, everything we think about, it’s for the future generation,” she said. “It’s the opportunity to change the mindset of young women who may not believe in themselves. And to see the kids — who didn’t ask to be in a homeless situation — get to have what’s sometimes the most stability they have known. When they’re here, when they see this place to live, a room of their own, a bed of their own, and we get to watch them shine. We watch them do well at school. We get to see the smiles on their faces and relate to the team members here. That’s what it’s all about.” 

A vision for the future

As Home of Hope celebrates its history, they’re also looking toward the future.

“If you don’t change as the world changes, you die. We’re looking forward to being part of what comes next,” Maureen added. 

So, what will come next for Home of Hope?

“We’re hoping to be part of the affordable housing arena. Not sure what that looks like yet, but we have opportunities there,” she said. “And we want to work closely with our nonprofit partners so we can all leave this world a little better than we found it.”