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A fairly new program in Northeast Missouri is moving forward to help change women’s lives for the better under the direction of area do-good-er and Northeast Missourian Brenda Wilson. Wilson and her husband Bud have been helping people all of their lives. Currently, they are investing their time and attention into the latest “people helping people” project, which is the Hearts for Hope program based in Memphis, MO.
“He helps out wherever he can,” said Brenda Wilson about her husband Bud. “The main thing is he’s supportive and letting me do this the way I want.”
The Hearts for Hope program began in the fall of 2019 as equine therapy, also known as horse therapy, which was unable to fully launch. In 2020, Brenda Wilson took on the name and turned it into a 501(c)3 not-for-profit organization, recruited a board of directors, and set out to help women coming out of incarceration, drug treatment, human trafficking, and abusive environments. She wanted to start a faith-based residential program, so that’s exactly what she did.
“I was always getting calls from people asking for an emergency place to stay,” said Brenda Wilson. “There are no options for people coming out of jails and prisons.”
Once the not-for-profit designation was in place, an anonymous donor generously donated enough money and the Hearts for Hope House was purchased in the spring of 2020.
The four-bedroom home is located in Scotland County. The home came with enough land to support a few animals, garden space, and room to grow the fledgling food truck business.
Wilson and her counterparts went to work putting together a plan for the home by designing a year-long residential program to help women regain control of their lives. They set up a highly structured routine for participants, and, keeping with the principles of equine therapy, they added more animals. They built in gardening time, devotional time, work time, professional counseling time, and a lot of church time.
The program closely resembles that of The Genesis House in Edina, which was designed to help women in crisis pregnancy situations. The Genesis House fizzled out completely in 2020. Wilson was one of the first board members of The Genesis House and worked on establishing the program in Northeast Missouri for many years. The Genesis House may be gone, however, the structure of the program is being carried on at the Hearts for Hope House.
The house was furnished completely by donors and set up to house three program participants and a housemother.
The group also set out to find a way for the program to be self-sustaining.
“We had to work on finding a sustainable income source, which is where the food truck came in,” said Wilson.
A food truck was obtained as an option to allow for the program to generate revenue and eventually offset the operating costs. This arm of the program is still getting started because the pandemic limited the ability to sell food to the public.
Now that the pandemic restrictions have lifted, the truck is making rounds through Memphis and Edina several days a week, opening from 11:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. Eventually, it will be visiting more neighboring towns as participants work cooking and serving food during the lunch hour. The truck operates on free-will-donations with a suggested donation of $8 per meal.
Program participants have to pay in or work off $750 per month. Working on the food truck offsets or eliminates their costs, establishes a work history, and adds to the structure of the program. Each Hearts for Hope House occupant is expected to work on the truck approximately four hours per shift two to three times per week.
Occupants also have a chore schedule and share the duties of cleaning and upkeep, cooking, feeding the livestock and taking care of a newly adopted housecat.
They get 30 minutes of personal phone time per day not including any employment, therapy or other program requirements they sometimes need to do over the phone.
Being a faith-based program, spending time at church is built in as the cornerstone.
“We get to choose which church we want to go to,” said participant Andrea Ray, who has been participating in the program for six months. “We rotate to different churches so everyone can spend time at their church.”
Animal and equine therapy is also part of helping women heal. Interacting with and caring for the livestock is used to help the women heal from past hardships. The residents are responsible for caring for several hens and roosters, two sheep, a donkey, and a horse, which are being kept on the property. The newest addition is a housecat named Marigold.
The house is currently full with three program participants and a housemother. Participants have been released from county jails to enter the program. For some participants, success in the program means getting to stay out of jail.
Each one is dealing with various legal entanglements in hopes that their time at the Hearts for Hope House will improve their chances of staying out of jail short term and long term.
“My case hasn’t gone to court yet. So, I could be doing this and still go to prison. It’s okay. It’s quiet here and they’re nice to us,” said Ray.
Ray said she was homeless before being arrested and coming into the program as a condition of being out on bond in Clark County. She hopes completing the program will encourage leniency from the courts. Thanks to the program, she has spent six months without committing any other offenses and looks forward to applying the life skills she has acquired to life on her own.
“I’ve been here about a week-and-a-half,” said Amanda Cannaday who was also released from county jail to the program. Cannaday is facing criminal charges in Knox County.
“I thought I was going to prison,” said Cannaday. “The judge let me come here instead.”
Before Cannaday joined the program, Ray was in the program with fellow Clark Countian Candace Weddle. Weddle entered the program after violating the conditions of her probation. She is also hoping to improve her options by completing the program.
Wilson sees the need for a men’s program and hopes the Hearts for Hope model can be repeated to establish a similar home for men in the future. She and Bud have their hands full helping to push the women’s program ahead as improvements to the house are made and sustainable revenue streams are realized from the food truck, by selling eggs and eventually offering fresh produce.
This spring, Ray and Weddle worked together to fence in the garden space on the property. The emerging garden will soon be producing all sorts of vegetables.
Opening the Hearts for Hope program opened an opportunity to help women figure out how to help themselves while dealing with serious challenges. As the program moves forward, Wilson hopes it inspires others to be more open-minded about employing and taking on people battling things like recidivism and addiction.
“You step out and do what you have to do,” said Wilson. “Everyone needs someone to believe in them.”
Learn more about the Hearts for Hope program, house and food truck on their Facebook profile at facebook.com/hearts.hope.31 or by emailing Brenda Wilson at [email protected]