Part of the joy inherent in the journey we have been traveling over the last several months are the wonderful people we meet along the way. Hearing their stories imparts hope into our own lives. So much so that we want to share the work being done in and around our community with you.
“Youth homelessness has not been on the radar that long…it [has] probably been around since the beginning of time…” says Bonnie Inman, Director of Philanthropy at Mobile Hope in Leesburg, Virginia. “My job here is fundraising,” she says, but concedes that her duties are far reaching. “We tend to wear a lot of different hats…”
Inman is a woman on the move. She has a proven track record of service, working at Loudoun Hunger Relief for ten years before her current position at Mobile Hope. She credits the organizational CEO, Donna Fortier, with casting a vision that many can espouse. A one-time employee of INOVA, Fortier secured their help in addressing a problem she discovered plaguing Loudoun County high schools. “She realized there was a youth homelessness issue…” Inman says, spurring Fortier to action in addressing a problem that few associate with one of the richest counties in the country.
Mobile Hope is a non-profit organization supporting “children and young adults who are precariously housed, homeless, or at risk, living in Loudoun County,” according to their website. Once these individuals come into contact with Mobile Hope, the organization works to meet the immediate need. “Our first priority is to find housing,” Inman says, noting that individuals are usually placed in a hotel. “Our homeless shelter is typically full,” she says, highlighting the deep need present within the community. In addition to the fact that shelters are typically designed for adults rather than youth.
As we talk, she highlights the story of a young girl who is now an ambassador for the organization. Her childhood was filled with strife, enduring years of sexual abuse carried out by family members. Eventually placed into foster care, she spent years cycling through foster homes and shelters.
Photo Courtesy of Bonnie Inman
Enter Mobile Hope. “Through all my dark days, Mobile Hope has always been there for me,” she writes. The support extended far beyond finding her a home. “They’ve given me unconditional love, a shoulder to cry on and told me I was better than the life I had been given,” she writes.
“Mobile Hope is kind of cutting edge,” Inman tells us, the excitement palpable in her voice as she describes how the work being done is entirely unique. She highlights the gap in services offered when it comes to the 18-24 demographic, further proving the need for the work of this organization. More plans are in the offing, as donors and staff alike desire to continue making a larger impact with each passing year. “Our goal is to have our own facility,” she says, outlining the desire to build a center at which “length of stay and type of service” would be determined based upon individual need.
“I love fundraising…it’s most definitely about raising awareness…” Inman says. She cites the rewarding nature of her work, feeling joy at the opportunity she has to make a difference. Even if the work is not always easy. “We have had a lot of successes – and we’ve had a lot of challenges,” she says. One of those challenges is the definition of homelessness. Multiple definitions further complicate matters. “It makes it really hard to explain the problem…”
In the face of challenges, we ask how the organization engenders hope among the individuals seeking assistance. “These kids have had no hope…” she says. “They have been at the brink, at the bottom.” The organization works to provide hope by being a sort of “light at the end of the tunnel,” best exemplified by a strong commitment to providing an opportunity for participants to make a turnaround. Beyond housing, the organization provides clothes and supplies, mentorship and educational assistance. Additionally, they work hard to ensure that every individual receives the services they need. She credits their success on the fundamentals of the organization. “The mentality – our culture – we don’t judge, we are patient to a fault sometimes, but tough when we have to be tough...”
When asked for ways others can become involved, Inman cited opportunities to volunteer. “[We have] a wonderful volunteer program…” she says, even offering the possibility of individuals volunteering as a family. “…Volunteerism can begin at any age, kids as young as four have come…” she says. The organization relies on the generosity of its donors to carry out this important work on a daily basis. Beyond financial support, the organization accepts gifts in kind, such as clothing, including new socks and underwear. For more information regarding the organization or ways to get involved, visit www.mobilehopeloudoun.org.
As our conversation winds down, she returns to a question posed earlier in the conversation. What separates the individuals who make a complete turnaround from the ones who are unable to break free from the realities surrounding the visible or invisible scars from the past? “I don’t know why it is…” she says contemplatively. “Why is it?”
I lean forward, hearkening back to an earlier theme of the conversation. The idea of a connection established, a feeling of belonging and identification with the organization. After spending years feeling ignored, suddenly they felt like someone cared. “I think that is the reason in part why we have worked, I really do,” she said, agreeing with the assertion.
A sentiment Cinthia would almost certainly echo. “All I know is - that Mobile Hope - gave me hope!"
These tiny seeds of hope sown into many lives, serving to benefit the entire community.