Suitcases, garbage bags and assorted carrying cases for clothing and personal items form a line just inside the entrance to the Way of Hope Women’s Resource Center off South Rutherford Boulevard and Dill Lane.
It’s a mandatory daily ritual for the homeless single mothers and children served by the center as they prepare to relocate to one of 16 local churches that will serve as their host for the night. This daily undertaking involving an average of 30 to 40 women and children takes a lot of time, energy and resources, and the Christian-based nonprofit could use some help.
Since last semester, a group of MTSU business students has been working with the Way of Hope to develop a marketing plan to spread its message more effectively and generate needed financial support for a program that relies on the community’s generosity.
With funds from a $1,500 Coca-Cola grant, the student group Enactus has supplied the center with a computer, software, printer, phone system and retooling of its website. The student group, which was previously known as Students in Free Enterprise, or SIFE, focuses on putting entrepreneurship into action through community service.
MTSU students Eric Wedgworth and Brittany Page have been deeply involved in the project, which began in the fall. Page, a junior business management major from Parsons, Tenn., and Wedgworth, a senior marketing major also from Parsons, Tenn., have been volunteering at the Way of Hope since the nonprofit’s inception two years ago. The Enactus project deepened their involvement.
“Right now, we’re just giving them the tools that they need,” Page said of Enactus’s assistance to Way of Hope. “We’re hoping to get more computers, since this is a resource center, to help the ladies and the children with technology.”
MTSU marketing instructor Laura Buckner serves as an adviser to the student group, which has a motto of “A head for business, a heart for the world.” The Way of Hope project is an excellent opportunity for students to exemplify that motto, she said.
“Students who are engage in Enactus have an opportunity to utilize the skills that they learn in the Jones College of Business to make the world a better place,” Buckner said. “In this case, the students actually wrote the grant themselves, decided the budget of how to spend the money and will be tracking the success of the nonprofit in the future.”
Way of Hope founder and Executive Director Brad Blomgren is very grateful for the assistance, which he says is helping his organization fulfill its mission of providing a safe place and meals during the day for struggling women with children who oftentimes have nowhere else to turn.
Through its partnership with area churches, Way of Hope has provided over 17,000 individual nights of shelter and 50,000-plus meals since November 2011. Among other services, the resource center provides a full-time caseworker to help the women with things such as job preparation, housing searches and applications for social services.
“It’s a safe house for women who are homeless,” Blomgren said. “When they search for resources, sometimes they get hit on, solicited and propositioned. A lot of times people think that because they’re homeless, they’ll sell themselves. … The resource center gives them a place to go so that they don’t have to subject themselves to that.
“It’s so hard for single moms to make it,” he said.
The Way of Hope will hold a special Women’s Day event April 11-12 to educate the public about the challenges facing homeless women and children locally.
The free two-day Women’s Day event includes a full slate of activities, with Friday, April 11, featuring a health fair with CPR, first-aid training and self-defense training at New Vision Church; on Saturday, April 12, the community is invited to the court square to participate in a 5K run, a kid’s fun run, craft fair fundraiser, parade and concert.
For more information about the event, visit http://www.wayofhope.net/womens-day-of-hope.html.
Wedgworth said the MTSU Enactus group was among 25 similar groups that received the Coke grants to develop projects that empowered women to succeed. Wedgworth said the group will continue working with the women’s center to provide as many opportunities and avenues as possible to help the many women served there.
“We’re working with another organization that could possibly get us (refurbished) laptops,” he said.
The center offers laundry facilities, computers, a playground and a children’s room. It also provides temporary stays for the homeless women who may be suffering from an illness or recovering from a medical procedure and need somewhere to go. Since the center opened in late 2012, it has provided temporary shelter to five women with newborns who had nowhere else to go after being discharged from the hospital, Blomgren said.
“This gives those women a place to recover,” he said.
For more information about the Way of Hope, contact Blomgren at 615-653-8027 or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org, or visit www.wayofhope.net. Blomgren said the resource center would be glad to partner with more local churches.
For more information or questions about how to get involved with MTSU Enactus, contact instructor Laura Buckner at email@example.com or instructor Jean Wilson at firstname.lastname@example.org, or learn more on Facebook at Enactus MTSU.
— Jimmy Hart (email@example.com)