Mike Mies in the Client-Choice Food Pantry at the Chamblee Service Center. (Photo provided by St. Vincent de Paul.)

By Guest Columnist MIKE MIES, executive director of St. Vincent de Paul Georgia

“Hope” may be an overused word. And it can mean many things depending on the circumstances and the context. A good friend of mine used to describe corporate stock options as a “Certificate of Hope.” I love that metaphor. Having lived through the dot-com bubble and had options that ended up worth nothing, I can relate. But in the context of stock options, the hope is really a “wish.” You know if that “hope” doesn’t come to pass, life goes on.

Mike Mies.

But for those experiencing insecurity in housing, hunger, or healthcare, hope is more fundamental. It is a lifeline that provides the motivation to keep going and the belief that things can get better. It is not a wish – it is a necessity. It is the fuel in the gas tank; it is what allows one to keep going. There is growing empirical evidence – see, for example, this recent article by Bruce Wydick, a Professor of Economics at the University of San Francisco – of the transformational power of hope as a best-practice intervention for moving low-income individuals and families out of poverty.

Unfortunately, many of our neighbors are struggling to remain hopeful. We see it every day in our work at St. Vincent de Paul Georgia. A single father with two young daughters two months behind on rent, expecting that the next knock on the door will be the sheriff processing the eviction. A divorced mother with 5 children under age 11 – two of which have been the victim of sexual assault – living in a small room at Studio 6. A young couple both recently laid off from work, with a one-year-old baby, living in a homeless shelter.

These aren’t stories. These are real people. Specifically, these are people who have sought help from St. Vincent de Paul Georgia just in the last week. And across the state, we visit with thousands of neighbors each week, many with similar situations. Last year, we assisted over 153,000 Georgians.

How do you stay hopeful when you know you are going to be evicted? When you are raising five children in a motel room? Or when you are living out of a car or in a homeless shelter with a young child? 

One key is knowing that someone else cares. That’s why the work we do at St. Vincent de Paul Georgia is so essential. Sure, we provide important services in the areas of housing, hunger and health – such as financial assistance to prevent evictions, homelessness prevention programs, free life-saving medications through our statewide charitable pharmacy, and nutritious food through our 40 food pantries. The “what” we do is important. Really important. 

But the “how” we do it is just as important. Through our network of over 3,000 trained volunteer caseworkers, we meet with those in need as neighbors. We take the time – most often in their homes – to understand their needs and learn how we can best help them. And to offer them real hope. 

I remember a few years ago visiting Carissa, a single mother of three who had called our helpline because, despite 14 years of IT experience, she had been unemployed for eight months, exhausting what small savings she had. While she had recently started some part-time retail jobs, she certainly wasn’t making enough to support herself and her three children. Their father was nowhere to be found and was providing no support. The electricity in her Sandy Springs apartment had been shut off for several weeks. Fortunately, when we met with her it was still daylight. We sat on a few chairs, the only furniture visible in her apartment. And we listened…

As she shared her story, Carissa began to cry. Her tears came from a mix of emotions. She felt the weight of the last six months burdening her shoulders. She felt relief knowing that someone cared and could provide assistance. And I think, in that moment, she felt loved – loved by two perfect strangers who had responded to her call for help and had come to visit her. And she finally felt hope for a better future.

Volunteers from St. Vincent de Paul Georgia have been making visits like this and providing hope throughout the state for 120 years, since 1903. On May 16, 2023, we will be celebrating this legacy at our annual Morning of Hope event at The Cobb Galleria Centre. Join us – it’s free to attend – and experience the power of hope for yourself. 

Would you like to write a guest column for SaportaReport? The SR team strives to uplift and amplify the diverse perspectives in our community, and we want to hear from you! Email Editor Derek Prall to discuss the specifics.

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