BY FAITH HARPER
An upcoming fundraiser will help an East Texas faith-based organization move closer to building a facility.
Hope Haven of East Texas is a nonprofit that works with older girls in the foster care system who are primarily unadoptable.
Founder Lisa Ferguson’s passion is helping girls, who after the age of 11 are typically shipped from foster home to foster home until they are 18, she said. Without a facility to house them, the organization currently focuses on helping girls who got out of the system with basics such as budgeting, getting an apartment, finding jobs and registering for school.
“You put them in a faith-based, loving home and we start showing them a different type of environment to live in,” Ms. Ferguson said. “We can change their lives, we can change the way they are loved, but you have to do it slow. You can’t just throw them into a loving environment. They don’t know what to do with that.”
After they get out of the Child Protective Services system, many of the girls are unprepared for living and surviving on their own.
“They are really left to fend for themselves and are not prepared for that,” said volunteer Cindy Sheppa. “A lot of times they get into unhealthy relationships, prostitution, drugs and other unhealthy things. Lisa and the people at Hope Haven want to create a home where these girls can grow and flourish and feel beautiful and worthy.”
The cause is close to Ms. Ferguson’s heart. She grew up in an abusive home and went through the Child Protective Services system.
“I kind of pulled myself up by my bootstraps and changed through God …” she said. “The Lord changed my life. There is no reason I should be where I am, so I tell them, ‘There is hope for anybody because there was hope for me.’”
She said the girls are strong because they have already seen some of the ugliest things in the world, all they need is encouragement and to believe they can accomplish their dreams.
Opening a home requires a suitable facility and hiring an executive director. After the facility gets started, there are grant opportunities to help it run, she said.
Ms. Ferguson, said the organization has been certified as a 501(c)(3) for two years, and has held two other fundraisers, bringing in about $300,000 of the between $370,000 to $500,000 to open up a permanent home for the girls.
Ms. Ferguson said the organization is looking for a property and is open to remodeling, purchasing or renting. The facility has to have enough room to house 14 girls and have a commercial kitchen, among a list of requirements from the state.
“Cat Walk For a Cause” will be held March 22 at The Fatt Apple Catering, 100 N. Main St. in Lindale, to help raise the money needed.
There will be two shows, with about 25 models, ages 5 and older, showing styles from local vendors. Ms. Sheppa, who is organizing the event, said the initial plan was to have one show, but so many were sponsored to model that they created a second time slot.
The shows will be at 10:30 a.m. and 1:30 p.m. and will include the testimony of 18-year-old Angela Bass. Ms. Bass was sexually abused by her father and gave birth to his child at the age of 16. The baby did not survive, and her family disowned her after she prosecuted him, Ms. Sheppa said.
Ms. Ferguson met Ms. Bass at a temporary shelter in Tyler, and has since helped her get on her feet. The shelter allows girls to stay for up to 90 days before they are placed in foster programs around the state, Ms. Ferguson said.
“She wants to be a judge; she wants to go to college and be a judge to be an advocate for these girls that are in the foster system,” Ms. Sheppa said.
Four of the models in the show were once in the foster care system.
Hope Haven anticipates getting started initially by housing six girls and working up to the full 14.
“We’ve been told by Judge (Carole) Clark that as soon as we open the door she can fill us up — there is a huge need,” Ms. Ferguson said.
Ms. Ferguson said in February, 800 children were taken from their homes in Region 4, which encompasses East Texas. She said 400 of those were girls, and Smith County accounted for 144 of them.
Ms. Ferguson said she will never be able to help all of the children in need, but she feels called to help make the world less of a bad place and stop a cycle of abuse and neglect.
“I can’t help everybody, but I might help one and that helps their children — and that changes a generation,” she said.
To learn more about Hope Haven of East Texas, or to donate funds online, visitwww.hhofet.org .