Women's Services looks to spread HOPE

Apr. 20—Women's Services Inc. looks to spread its message of HOPE.

Hope may be defined as, "Desire accompanied by expectation of or belief in fulfillment."

But, Women's Services defines HOPE as a community initiative with its letters an acronym for health, opportunity, placemaking and engagement.

HOPE got its start in 2019 in Meadville's Fifth Ward, a lower-income area of the city where HOPE strengthened ties between residents and the community as a whole.

On Thursday, the agency held an appreciation reception at the Meadville Railroad Depot Museum for its many collaborating agencies.

"We can't do this work without the support of our local community," Bruce Harlan, executive director of Women's Services, said. "We collaborate with so many people. We wanted an event to say thank you for supporting us, for collaborating with us. And say, 'Here's what we're doing, and here's where we're going.'"

HOPE's success is the result of a collaboration between Fifth Ward residents, Women's Services Inc., Crawford County System of Care, Center for Family Service, and Peace 4 Crawford. Residents serve as HOPE's staff within the community

Under the HOPE initiative:

—Health has included addressing social, behavioral, environmental and medical factors in the community, with residents having a strong interest in strengthening relationships with their neighbors.

—Opportunity is self-improvement to community improvement with cleanups to meet neighbors' safety or emergency needs.

—Placemaking includes improving Spring Run, a small stream, and developing community spaces for events within the Fifth Ward.

—Engagement is residents meeting with local, state or federal officials and nonprofit agencies, employers, health care providers and others to discuss questions, ideas and needs for their community.

Harlan said HOPE's reach can expand to other areas around Crawford County thanks to the receipt of a recent $1 million gift. Last month, Women's Services Inc. was awarded $1 million by Yield Giving allowing it to broaden its mission in helping those affected by domestic and sexual violence.

Yield Giving is a charity established by MacKenzie Scott, a philanthropist, novelist and ex-wife of Jeff Bezos. The couple founded Amazon.com.

Additional HOPE locations are under consideration, but expanding HOPE doesn't mean Women's Services will push its way into a community, Harlan said.

"We're looking at several other neighborhoods in Meadville. We're looking at potentially Cochranton and Titusville," Harlan said."It's not us saying, 'We're coming to your community.' It's us asking 'Do you want us?'

"It involves talking to the local communities and seeing if they're interested in inviting us in," he said. "It's also finding out what ideas the communities themselves might have for moving forward."

Timelines aren't known, Harlan said, but he forecasts establishing the HOPE program and rolling it out will take about one to three years.

Keith Gushard can be reached at (814) 724-6370 or by email at kgushard@meadvilletribune.com.