By Heather Murtagh
Daily Journal Staff
Gina Cooper doesn’t recall where she was on her last birthday.
Most of 2012 was a transient time for her family. After losing her mom to cancer in March, Cooper struggled to keep the home they shared in Belmont. By the summer, she and the youngest of her two sons, 12-year-old Dante, were staying in space offered by friends around the Peninsula. They sought help through shelters and nonprofits, but most places had waiting lists or were unable to help the small family in their time of need. But that changed in the late summer when she was introduced to Home a Hope — an interfaith nonprofit providing homeless families safe, nurturing shelter and support while they work to regain their self sufficiency.
After meeting with the organization, Cooper immediately had a new support system.
“It became more than finding a place to live,” Cooper said over a cup of coffee at a shop down the road from where she’s now found a more permanent home in San Mateo.
Homelessness is a very diverse issue, said Raj Rambob, executive director of Home and Hope. In this area, filled with creative and affluent people, Rambob believes creative solutions can be found. One such option is what the organization does — offering a chance for people to get back on their feet by taking care of basic needs while they look for a job and save cash.
The program relies on community partnerships to provide space at local churches for families to stay during the evening. They arrive at the host congregation to find volunteers who have provided a home-cooked dinner, play or help with the children and spend the night on-site. Breakfast is available in the morning along with a boxed lunch. At 7 a.m., families are transported to the Home and Hope day center featuring access to showers, personal storage space, laundry, kitchen and computer lab.
It’s not just an assembly line of helpers.
Cooper recalled specific instances when individuals took an extra step to include her in their life.
For example, she recalled bonding with strangers who listened to the radio while cheering on the San Francisco Giants in their race to the World Series. People who helped offered support but also understood if being left alone was what someone needed. And then, there was Christmas.
Families were hosted by Peninsula Temple Beth El in San Mateo that week. It’s actually a tradition for those of the Jewish congregation to welcome Home and Hope during the Christian holiday. And, despite it not being a Jewish tradition, the niceties of Christmas — from gingerbread and presents to Santa and a tree — are brought to Temple Beth El and shared with the families of Home and Hope.
Carol Kadet, one of the two organizers for the Temple Beth El volunteers who support Home and Hope, said the annual outing is a welcome one. Many of the families in the congregation are multifaith. And those who aren’t often enjoy simply being a part of the festivities, she said.
Kadet started supporting Home and Hope before Temple Beth El was a host congregation, actually housing the families. At the time, they would volunteer to help when others were hosting. This could be through making food, working with families, providing activities or even staying overnight with the families.
“Personally, I get a lot out of it,” she said of the volunteer effort.
Peninsula Beth El hosts families for two weeks out of the year — in July and over the Christmas holiday, she said.
Cooper loved being part of a community willing to celebrate her traditions. She was also welcomed taking part in services at Temple Beth El. She teared up describing how special that act was.
Supporting the community is a built-in aspect of most faiths.
In Hebrew, Tikkun Olam means repairing or healing the world. It’s a belief Kadet mentioned when describing the congregations work with Home and Hope. Making an impact gives volunteers the opportunity to either be in the background — making food and preparing the facility before families arrive — or work with families directly to see the actual impact, said Kadet, who added that’s a unique element of the program that she enjoys.
Holiday celebrations aside, Cooper couldn’t stop listing the ways Home and Hope, along with the volunteer supporters, have continued to help her. When she started, Cooper was working in a job that required long hours. Often her son would wait in the car for her while she finished. But there was light at the end of the tunnel as she put money aside for their future. Being part of the Home and Hope program meant searching for other job opportunities. She recently was able to make a switch to a higher-paying job that has weekends off and the opportunity to grow.
Cooper and her son were able to rent a room in San Mateo. When moving, she was overwhelmed by the kindness of others helping to provide anything needed to set up their new home. There’s still much to be done, but Cooper laughed at the things she’s now concerned about — like putting on a couple of pounds from all the tasty food prepared by numerous volunteers.
For information about Home and Hope, including ways to donate or volunteer, visit www.homeandhope.net.
(650) 344-5200 ext. 105
Home and Hope
A poem by Gina Cooper
We come in all shapes and sizes
Leaving behind our homes
On a path of hope to find new ones
We have not lost
We have only gained the attention of our fellow man
To extend a hand of kindness
Most of us are overwhelmed by your generosity
A gesture which grooms our garden
The garden of hope
I hope for our future
A foundation to pass on for generations
The gift of one human being helping another