Life in our Foothills February 2023 – Outreach’s Hope Village is building homes with heart
Published 3:07 pm Wednesday, February 22, 2023
Since 1991, Thermal Belt Outreach Ministry has been one of the most vital charitable organizations within Polk County. Based in Columbus, the organization is guided by its motto, “helping hands, caring hearts.” Outreach has been instrumental in serving Polk County residents, aiding the community by working to alleviate food insecurity, helping families in need with financial assistance and providing free school supplies to area students.
Recently, they have taken their mission a step further by constructing Hope Village, a rental housing development aimed at addressing the affordable housing shortage in Polk County, on Hope Valley Lane off White Drive in Columbus.
Hope Village, which presently consists of three homes with the fourth under construction and many more planned, can be described as a community-minded neighborhood where families can live and grow in affordable, supportive housing. Outreach owns the homes and rents them out to those who apply and qualify, allowing them to have safe, stable housing that can often be hard to find.
A neighborhood such as Hope Village had always been a vision of long-time executive director and Outreach founder, the late Eloise Thwing, for whom their main building is named. And in 2019, then Executive Director George Ally took the project on and got it going with the help of the Polk County High School Construction Program led by their teacher Keith Rimer.
The students on the Polk County High School Construction Program, constructed the shells of the homes, including the roof, doors, and siding, which were then transported to the site. Then, Rimer Construction completed the remaining work on the three houses, with the fourth to be completed early this year. Current Outreach Executive Director Margot Carter now leads the project, and she has undoubtedly inherited her predecessor’s passion and enthusiasm for the new neighborhood.
Carter, the daughter of a builder, joined Outreach in 2016 as its communications, marketing, and development director and is now the organization’s fifth executive director. She’s quick to give the lion’s share of credit to her predecessors, the Outreach staff, the project’s contributors, and, especially, the volunteers.
“Hope Village has been born out of years of planning and hard work,” Carter says. “We’ve done our best to build a neighborhood that is a true community with access to shopping, restaurants, a grocery store, and even a nature trail. It’s been designed to have deliberate landscapes with green space for the kids to play and folks of all ages to coexist and help each other.”
Carter is also quick to thank the many contributors that helped fund the neighborhood and homes. Dogwood Health Trust provided a $490,000 grant to fund developing the required infrastructure to build out the community, and generous donations from Suzanne Plumly’s Estate, Ann Jacob Tom’s Estate and the Bradley Fund at the Polk County Community Foundation made the construction of the Phase 1 houses possible. The neighborhood has also expanded its plans to build different size homes and duplexes for singles.
Another significant contribution to the community is Outreach’s partnership with the county and Crossnore Communities for Children as they plan to build two homes that will be part of the Professional Foster Parent Program. Currently, many children from Polk County have to leave the county when put into foster care, and this will allow them to remain closer to their families and keep them from having to change schools. Crossnore Communities for Children seeks to create healthy futures for children and families by providing a Christian sanctuary of hope and healing.
Outreach will also address another need with the construction of a childcare center, breaking ground in the first quarter of 2023. The number of childcare centers in the area has dramatically decreased in recent years.
Some residents participate in LifeWorks, a program offered by Outreach designed for adults who want to make positive changes and improve their lives. LifeWorks helps participants obtain and retain better-paying jobs, find additional education or vocational training, rent or buy safe and affordable housing, and build self-esteem and a strong work ethic.
Outreach was initially founded by a small group that wanted to work to improve the lives of Polk County residents. And Hope Village is indeed doing just that.
Carter applauds the contributions of the PCHS Construction Program, both Rimer and current teacher of the program Eric Morlino, and all the students who built the frames and exteriors of the homes at Hope Village.
“We couldn’t do it without them,” she says.
Carter also thanks the Rimer Corporation, and Community Planner and Landscape Architect Darren Meyer of MKSK.
Outreach often pays a utility bill for an out-of-work single mother with several children, provides firewood for the elderly during the winter months, and prepares food bags from the food pantry that are distributed to nutritionally at-risk school children. They outfit hundreds of children each year with backpacks and school supplies their families can’t afford.
“Our clients are not nameless or faceless individuals. They are often closer than we realize. We desire to give back a sense of dignity and self-worth to those we serve,” Carter says when describing Outreach’s overall mission. “Outreach is committed to helping individuals, children and families in crisis. Today, more than ever, the people we serve need a helping hand and a caring heart.”
Margot adds, “We want the community to know about what we are building and all the thoughtful planning that has gone into the neighborhood. We recognize families come in all shapes and sizes, so we are building a diverse community for people in different stages of their lives.”
To learn more about Outreach and Hope Village, visit its website at www.tboutreach.org.