News: Life after formation: Taking care of our own
Story by Sgt. Adam Garlington
EL PASO, Texas - Maj. Hope Jackson was driving to a bible study in Saudi Arabia about 14 years ago when she suddenly felt a spiritual calling to help the children of the world. Immediately, she stopped her vehicle on the side of the road and began to cry. She didn’t know it at the time, but this experience would change her life forever.
Before this calling, Jackson, an acquisition officer, was planning to serve in the Army for 25 years, retire and move home to Starke, Fla. Initially, the experience scared her, and she tried to ignore it. But as this unpredictable thing called life continued to play out, she realized she had to answer this calling and founded the H.O.P.E. Institute in 2010.
“In addition to being my first name, H.O.P.E. is also an acronym,” said now, retired Lt. Col. Jackson. “We’re going to help people get from where they are to where they need to be through healing, optimizing, perfecting and empowering. The H.O.P.E Institute is the beginning of second chances.”
The H.O.P.E. Institute, a non-profit organization, is a center of excellence for economically disadvantaged and underserved members of society. Its mission is to rebuild and restore lives emotionally, mentally, physically and spiritually.
She said the institute’s first project is to build Houses of Peace for struggling female veterans here that want to change their lives but are lacking leadership, mentorship and resources to transition from depending on society to self-sufficiency.
“You can’t just come into the house off the street because you’re a vet and want a place to eat, sleep and keep doing what you were doing,” Jackson said. “This is for people that are serious about changing their lives. They need a hand-up, not a handout.”
The residents must not be using or in the possession of drugs, they must be willing to complete a 16-week curriculum, they must be willing to be a part of a team, and they must be willing to live independently. She said the curriculum will focus on life skills such as defining success, goal setting, job search preparation, nutrition, personal finances, hygiene, and operating in a group environment.
The classes will take place in the home’s learning resource center. Jackson said the learning center is furnished by donations from the community, which includes two 8-foot tables with chairs, two podiums, a white board, and computers for ten workstations. Eight workstation are for the women living in the house, and the other two stations are for people from the community that want to attend the courses for a nominal fee that will be invested in the home.
The home, which is located at 5020 Rutherford Drive, here, will have a kitchen, lounge area, and four bedrooms and bathrooms. She said each room will be shared by two women; however, the house can accommodate a women with children and disabled veterans if needed. Each House of Peace will be identified by a heart-shaped planter in the front yard.
“Home is where the heart is,” Jackson said. “When you are at home, you should be at peace. This is why we call it a House of Peace.”
The home will be staffed with two volunteer residential assistants at all times. The volunteers will have to pass a background check and must be female, so it doesn’t create a hostile environment for the women living in the home.
Outside, the home will have flower beds, an outdoor kitchen with a grill, and a recreational area with patio furniture made out of pallets by a volunteer. A certified yoga instructor volunteered to give the women free yoga lessons in the tranquility area that will have a fountain and plants. There will be a quad-shaped garden, and the women of each room will be responsible for maintaining a quadrant in the garden.
The remodeling of the home and property is almost exclusively completed through volunteering and donations, she said. Home Depot donated more than $15,000 of materials and supplies to the project, and its employees volunteer at the home. The El Paso Electricians Joint Apprentice Training Center’s students performed all the electrical work for the home free of charge.
Western Technical College will service and install a central air and heat unit that was donated to the home. A retired contractor will do all of the duct work at the home for free. She added that the Rough Riders and Lost Renegades Motorcycle Clubs both volunteer at the home. Local churches have donated food and clothing, and El Paso City Representative Carl Robinson donated a 5 feet by 5 feet container of non-perishable food to the home.
Many people and organizations are volunteering and donating to help complete this home, but she said the biggest contributor to the cause is the soldiers at Fort Bliss.
“One team, one fight,” Jackson said. “Everyone is coming together for a great cause, but the vast majority of the work on the house is done by military volunteers. Soldiers doing what they do best, serving.”
She said one soldier doing what he does best is Sgt. Maj. Jerry Bailey, the driving force behind the on-going construction at the home.
He heard about the project through a co-worker, and thought he would volunteer at the home for a couple of weekends and move on to his next project, but now, more than a year later, he is the project manager for the home.
“Anytime we can get those who serve our country off of the street and into a place they can call home, it’s a win-win situation,” said Bailey, the training, development and education sergeant major at the U.S. Army Sergeants Major Academy at Fort Bliss, Texas. “It’s a wonderful thing when the community decides to come out and help in the cause you are fighting for.”
The structure of the home was in place, but soldiers gutted the home and are replacing everything in the home, said Bailey, an engineer by trade. He added that soldiers have done 90 percent of the work on the home while the community has provided special skill sets to help complete the project.
The institute hopes to complete the home by the end of spring this year, but there is still plenty of work that needs to be done on the home, such as the roof, he said. Anyone that can help work on the roof will be greatly appreciated.
“This home is not completed yet, so we’re asking the community and soldiers to continue donating their time and money to help this project to completion,” Bailey said. “[Soldiers] have been trained to help others and giving back to the community is one way of doing that.”
The Army continues to be instrumental in the completion of this project. Jackson said she loves the Army, and it was the stepping stone that prepared her for taking on this project. This may be the first House of Peace, but she anticipates everyone in El Paso County will know about the H.O.P.E. Institute by the end of year.
In the future, she said she wants to take the institute statewide, nationwide and global. Her plans include opening a VetMart at every House of Peace. VetMart is a store located on the property and managed by the women living in the house. The store will give veterans the opportunity to purchase clothing for a nominal fee that will be reinvested in the home.
She also said she wants to start an around-the-clock transportation service for veterans called VetRun, and she wants to open H.O.P.E. Hall, a free off-site educational center for veterans.
“The intent is to serve all, but we can’t serve all at one time,” Jackson said. “The current focus of the institute is to service all needs of female veterans. The return on investment from doing this is priceless. I look forward to the day when one of the ladies comes back and tells me the H.O.P.E. Institute saved my life.”
For information about volunteering and donating to the H.O.P.E. Institute call 915-202-7955 or email Hope@TheInstituteofHope.org.