Thirty-five years ago, when Lisa Steven and Amie Walton met while assisting in a support group for teen parents like themselves, they were shocked to see how so many of the girls lived in fear, shame, hunger or pain — even in their own homes. It was even more shocking to discover how many were actually homeless, Steven said.
Steven knows she was one of the lucky ones because she was — and still is — married to her baby’s father and had his support, along with that of her family and his. “Working with the girls in that support group gave us a heart for teen moms, especially for the shame put on them and how they were (stuck) in traumatic and abusive home lives,” she said.
“In 1997 there simply wasn’t a place for homeless teen moms and their children,” Steven recalled. There were “maternity homes” where a pregnant teen could stay until she delivered and decided whether to keep her baby or relinquish the child for adoption. Shelters and group homes, for the most part, only admitted adult women.
Thus, “It became our goal to provide not only a safe, stable and loving home environment but also to provide the tools each teen mom would need in order to become self-sufficient,” Steven writes in a blog that traces the history of Hope House Colorado, the metro Denver-area's only provider of free self-sufficiency programs to parenting teen moms.
“Most importantly,” she added, “we wanted to provide them with hope. We wanted each young mom and child to know that there is no mistake too big, no past too heavy, that would make God give up on them.”
“Even today,” Steven said in a telephone interview, “our moms feel judged by society. They’re told ‘You’re going to be nothing more than a statistic and so will your child.’ Our goal is to change that by having them understand they are valuable and what it is like to be in a healthy relationship.”
The process leading to today’s Hope House campus at 6475 Benton St. in Arvada is one that was filled with hopes, dreams — and plenty of surprises.
For example: When Rocky Mountain Housing loaned the use of a ranch-style house to them for what was to have been a two-year period suddenly turned into a less than one year occupancy, something unexpected happened in the midst of a scramble to find a new facility: Rocky Mountain Housing said Hope House could have the house, provided they could move it to a new location. Otherwise, it would be torn down to make way for a low-income housing development.
A frustrating search for land ensued, and then, just as everyone was about to give up, the pastor from a nearby church called and said he had land where the house could relocate. It was land, Steven and Walton were delighted to learn, that had been zoned for a group home 25 years earlier when the church had hoped to open its own maternity home.
The Hope House board of directors was formed in 2000, and for the next three years Steven and Walton spent their time fundraising, developing a self-sufficiency program and learning how to run a nonprofit organization. But it didn’t take long for them to find that “What looks good on paper needs a lot of revision when applied to real, live people.”
Still, they persevered and today the Hope House campus is home to a 12-bedroom residence where teen moms and their children can stay, at no charge, for varying lengths of time, a playground and a 15,000-square-foot Resource Center. Participants are between 15 and 20 years old, although they can continue their involvement until age 25.
Moms in the Residential Program receive up to a week of respite care, up to nine months of transitional housing and up to two years of comprehensive programming. At the Resource Center, the moms can prepare for their GED or high school diploma and participate in classes that include parenting and healthy relationships, health and wellness, financial literacy, career preparedness and personal growth. There’s also an early learning program for the children.
Those living at Hope House, the Arvada Chamber of Commerce’s 2018 Nonprofit of the Year, are moms who had either been homeless or living in a dangerous environment.
“If you’re not living in a safe home, you are not safer at home,” Steven explained.
Volunteers provide meals for all Hope House participants, who also have access to free diapers, clothing, books, dishes and other items that have been donated to the nonprofit organization.
Steven said that food is available from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. daily, which is important because many of the moms are not eating as they should, primarily because they couldn't afford food for themselves and their child.
To date, Hope House Colorado has served 722 teen moms. When the Residential Center opened, the average stay was two years; now, it ranges from six to 14 months, with the length of stay largely dependent on the age of the mom and her individual needs. This year, Steven estimates that Hope House will serve 250 moms and 375 kids on a budget of $2.4 million.
Eighty percent of Hope House’s income comes from individual donations; 12% from grants and 8% from corporate gifts. Donors, or Hope House Champions as they are called, include the Anschutz Family Foundation, the Temple Hoyne Buell Foundation, the Adolph Coors Foundation, Danielle Shoots and the Liniger Fund.
Hope House, one of Charity Navigators’ four-star charities, collaborates with other nonprofit organizations that provide services Hope House does not, including Florence Crittenton, Family Tree, Junior Achievement, Women with a Cause and the Second Wind Fund.
While Hope House literally started on a wing and a prayer, over the years it has taken flight to not only steer parenting teens in a positive direction, it has taken meaningful steps to help eliminate roadblocks that stand in the way of at-risk young people attempting to make better lives for themselves.
In this legislative session alone, Hope House and its partners in the Teen Parent Collaborative monitored and supported bills that include HB21-1084, which simplifies the drivers licensing process for children in foster care; HB-1304, a measure that created the state Department of Early Childhood; and SB21-236, which creates four new grant programs to increase capacity for early childhood care and education.
Hope House success stories are many.
Alondra, for example, gave birth when she was 16. “That fact alone meant she had less than a 1% chance of ever earning a college degree,” Steven said, adding that Alondra also had to overcome homelessness and generational poverty.
Alondra worked to overcome those obstacles and, at age 19, received a scholarship to Metropolitan State University of Denver, where, while raising her son, she earned a bachelor’s degree in nursing and landed a job as a registered nurse at Children’s Hospital Colorado on the Anschutz Medical Campus in Aurora. Alondra was the first Hope House graduate to earn a bachelor’s degree.
Janelle was living in her car with her two little boys when she learned about Hope House. She was very quiet and shy at first, but after six months in the residential program she earned her GED, enrolled in college and is now working as a machinist at Ball Aerospace. She also was able to buy her own home.
Shanice learned about Hope House after giving birth to her daughter at Rose Medical Center in Denver. She came to Hope House in mid-September 2019, when little Azaila was five weeks old. During their stay, Shanice obtained her GED, enrolled in college to pursue an associate’s degree in sonography, learned how to budget and better manage her money and was able to move from a studio apartment into a two-bedroom, two-bath condominium.
The Hope House staff, Shanice said, made her “feel so welcome and supported. They want what’s best for us. They helped me get my GED, get into college and be a better mother. They even helped my mental health and the way I view myself. I am so grateful.”