The welcome mat is always out at Merriam’s House of Hope. But Marilyn Thomas, founder and executive director of the faith-based licensed residential treatment program, knows that teenage girls arriving at the doorstep don’t necessarily embrace her with love.
“Many girls hate life, God, parents and siblings,” Thomas said. “But after staff and I work with them from 10 to 15 months, they usually have a change of heart.”
Thomas opened the House of Hope’s residential center in a restored 1913 home in September 2007 following a lifelong dream of running an orphanage. It is affiliated with the National House of Hope in Orlando, Fla., which, among other things, keeps girls on track to graduate high school.
Thomas’s nonprofit recently broke ground on a new Life Center to be built by October on the grounds of the home and a chapel. The center will accommodate Hope Academy, the program’s school with licensed teachers and volunteers now conducted in the house. Plans also include the addition of an art studio, exercise room, business and counseling offices and a library.
House of Hope received its 501(c)3 status in 2004 and began outpatient counseling in 2005. The program serves girls between the ages of 12 and 17.
Designed as an intensive five-phase program, parents must be committed to the process, along with their daughters, which includes individual and family counseling sessions and parenting classes.
Girls learn responsibility, accountability and community service at the group home through chores like cooking meals and doing laundry, completing schoolwork through an on-site virtual classroom, volunteering in the urban core and taking mission trips to impoverished areas of places like Trinidad and Haiti.
House of Hope also focuses on building spiritual lives by taking girls to weekly church services and youth groups.
By the time the girls find their way to the suburban home’s front door, Thomas said, she is often greeted with seething, raging anger.
“Often they don’t like me at the beginning,” Thomas said. “We have hard and fast rules at House of Hope.”
Thomas said she has served more than 300 girls.
“These aren’t bad kids, they’re just hurting,” Thomas said. Overland Park resident Rick said his daughter’s House of Hope experience was nothing short of a miracle.
“She was lost and had reached the point where everything suffered — her school, home and spiritual life,” he said. “House of Hope’s disciplined program reconnected my daughter to everything — my wife and me, her siblings and God, a new attitude.”
Rick said his daughter, now a 20-year-old college sophomore studying business and entrepreneurship, is happy, healthy and alive in every way.
Martha Comment has worked at House of Hope since 2008 as a counselor. She said the rebellious girls eventually understand the positive changes waiting for them.
“Faith really helps them,” Comment said.
Comment said House of Hope meets the girls where they are psychologically, spiritually and emotionally.
“We’re not a Band-Aid or a baby sitter,” she said. “We help heal fractured relationships, give hope, offer tools for leading a healthy, productive life.”