HANNIBAL, Mo. – Two sisters made the difficult decision to close the Hope House's doors last week, following a lengthy struggle with the building's declining physical condition, funding shortfalls and other factors.
Dorothy Whitley and Verna Nofziger started Hope House in 1994, providing temporary shelter, personal necessities, transportation and other services to help people find a home or return to their families. Over the years, Whitley and Nofziger worked with numerous community members and group to help provide a helping hand. The building's deteriorating condition stopped the main source of funding for the shelter, but the sisters are hopeful that a church or organization will establish a shelter to fill the need for helping homeless people in the area.
Whitley said the United Way of the Mark Twain Area provided monthly payments and volunteers during the National Day of Caring to aid with the expenses associated with running the shelter, like giving people rides, purchasing food, medicine, gas cards and other providing other resources. Whitley remembered the day a man stopped by and determined the building was in need of too much work, ceasing the funding. Linda Fritz and Bill Mallory each wrote grants and invested the funds in savings accounts, but Whitley said that money eventually ran out as well.
Nofziger said the old building had water leaks and other damage, and it became more difficult to keep up with the maintenance needs as time passed. She and Whitley both offered their thanks to everyone who helped them in their mission during the past 25 years, including Lou Lemen with the United Way of the Mark Twain Area, Linda Fritz with NECAC, the late Roy Owens and the late Mike Ewing, Bob Allen, Carolyn Conners, members of Park United Methodist Church and Cornerstone Baptist Church, General Mills and officials with the Hannibal Police Department.
Both sisters remembered inspiring stories about the people they helped. One man came back to Hope House to volunteer in between his shifts at his job. Another visitor had spent all of his money to make sure his family could take a bus back home after their car broke down. He arrived at Hope House with blistered feet from his long walk. They cared for him with medicine and new socks, and he received a bus ticket so he could rejoin his family.
"It keeps you going," Whitley said.
She said that she and Nofziger agreed that it was a difficult decision, stressing that there are too many tasks for them to take on alone. But they were hopeful that a new shelter might be established by a community church or civic organization — the need to help homeless people in the area continues.
"People really care about the homeless. They have a heart for them," Whitley said.
And they remembered the love they received from many people who came to Hope House over the years. Nofziger said several people called them "Miss Verna" and "Miss Dorothy," and Whitley said "they were like family."
Both sisters have bittersweet feelings now that the shelter is closed, looking back on the impact they helped make on people's lives. And they are grateful for the community support they received through the years and the chance to make a difference in each person's life they met.
"We gave it our best shot," Nofziger said. "I'd do it again. I have no regrets." Whitley felt the same way.
"We're very thankful to anyone who helped us during the journey," she said. "It has been a blessing."