Suffolk’s center gets a new beginning

Published 10:36 pm Wednesday, October 29, 2008

The Center for Hope and New Beginnings is getting ready for a new beginning of its own.

The center is merging with ForKids, a Norfolk-based emergency shelter and transitional housing provider.

The merger will keep the Suffolk facility open, renaming it the Suffolk House, and putting it under the leadership and vision of ForKids.

Email newsletter signup

“This is a chance really to change people’s lives,” said Win Winslow, chairman of the board for the Center for Hope and New Beginnings. “This will do so much for the good of the population.”

Winslow said this merger is a solution to many problems that have been plaguing Suffolk’s only homeless shelter for years.

There were five different directors in five years, there was no plan to make the vision for the center come to life, and the governing board was frustrated trying to determine where to go next.

“We were in dire straights,” Winslow said.

The leadership group knew something had to change.

The board – along with interim director Carolyn McPherson — began researching the idea of merging with another shelter to streamline resources and combine funding and capabilities in the area.

Their search brought them to ForKids.

Thaler McCormick, executive director of ForKids, said the organization was in the midst of its own internal revitalization when the center knocked on its doors.

“We had talked about expansion for years … Suffolk and Western Tidewater is clearly the logical place to go,” McCormick said. “But, our only hesitation was would we be able to meet that fiscal challenge in this point in time when we had just taken on all this new — very strategic new decisions to help more families here.”

It was the thought of losing the shelter in Suffolk altogether that made the merger a priority.

McCormick said that when the Friends of the Homeless shelter in Hampton closed last year, the requests and the toll on ForKids went through the roof.

“We decided we could not, the region simply could not, sustain the loss of another family shelter.”

Winslow and McPherson both said that after touring the ForKids facilities, it became obvious this was the organization to bring change and relief to Suffolk’s homeless population.

Winslow jokingly said ForKids is “what we wanted to be when we grew up.”

The Suffolk House will offer services comparable to those at ForKids’ Haven House Emergency Shelter.

The biggest change will be that residents can stay for up to four months, compared to the 45 days they now have to get their lives together. During that time, they can address health care issues, find employment, learn life skills and get stability back in their lives.

For the first year in Suffolk, McCormick said, the ForKids staff will be figuring out how to best serve a different, more rural population in Suffolk, while also partnering with community leaders and volunteers to create a niche in the city for the shelter.

The ForKids Board of Directors voted to approve the merger Tuesday, and the legal filing and paperwork was to have been completed on Wednesday.

Winslow said the merger will not only help the people of Suffolk, it could serve as a catalyst for change in Hampton Roads.

“This could be the first step toward a regional solution to end homelessness,” he said. “Who knows where it can go from here.”