He never really planned it this way.
“I’ve served on a lot of nonprofit boards. Usually, your service period comes and goes,” said Lever Stewart, a board member at Home of Hope for just over 30 years. “This is the only board I’ve served on anywhere near this long. By a long shot.”
Lever, who is general counsel for Home of Hope and as a member of Home of Hope’s executive committee, joined the board in 1991 — back when it was Gwinnett Children’s Shelter.
Over the years, he’s seen Home of Hope survive and thrive during the past 35 years.
“Through this whole period, I’ve been impressed that this organization has always tried to stay on top of it — being impactful, not losing sight of their mission and evolving where needed,” he said. “I’ve helped with some of that, whether it was historical knowledge or other things like legal knowledge. … That’s led me to feel I can contribute and that’s kept me involved.”
One specific way he’s served in the past? Negotiating their property lease with the county.
“That is an interesting memory. Gwinnett has now grown out to us,” he said. “But I remember negotiating that lease and thinking, ‘This is a 25-year lease. We’re good forever.’ At the time, we all envisioned that we would be the one out here in the middle of nowhere forever. Now, all of sudden, we’re in the thick of things.”
Lever credits Home of Hope’s longevity to a combination of efforts.
“One of the things I love about this organization is that, in my opinion, they’re very good at raising community awareness and educating the community about what we provide and why,” he said. “Here’s the impact. Here are the homeless moms and their children we’ve helped. Here’s the actual track record and their success. Those numbers are powerful.”
For a nonprofit like Home of Hope, navigating 35 years of ups and downs is no small feat.
“We’ve had our financial challenges. But I always appreciate that people pull together and address them head on,” he said. “And I think we’ve done a pretty good job of that.”
Community support has made a difference over the years, too.
“There have been a lot of influential people in the Gwinnett community who’ve been involved,” he added.
But, at the end of the day, it isn’t budgets or lease negotiations that have kept Lever involved for over 30 years.
It’s the kids.
“I can remember at one of the large events we were doing, someone who’d been through the program got up to speak. And when they did, you could hear a pin drop,” he recalled. “There were visible tears on peoples’ faces. And you just know: ‘This is why we do this.’
“You can’t solve the entire problem. It’s baby steps. But the impact we’re having is immeasurable.”