Anne Arundel couple’s outreach spreads ‘H.O.P.E.’

Leo and Diane Zerhusen began H.O.P.E. (He Opens Paths to Everyone) for All, their Christian ministry, after seeing how the unmet needs of children prevent them from growing into the person God calls them to be.

H.O.P.E., a non-profit ecumenical ministry, began in response to the need the Zerhusens observed. As teachers in Anne Arundel County, the Catholic couple saw children come to school with a lack of food, school supplies and decent clothing.

“Here in Anne Arundel, about 30 percent of children are on free and reduced lunch,” Leo Zerhusen said, “and this is one of the wealthier areas in Maryland.”

One mission of H.O.P.E. is to provide disadvantaged children with tools they need to succeed. Working together with 17 schools, two of which are in Baltimore City, H.O.P.E. sets up clothing distributions and helps those in need obtain school supplies.

Another outreach of H.O.P.E. is their “Turning Houses into Homes” mission, their largest project. They assist homeless families and people leaving shelters or moving from place to place by sending two volunteers to assess what families need. They then provide necessities – microwaves, tables, beds, dressers, nightstands –at no cost to the family.

In Baltimore, H.O.P.E. works together with My Sister’s Place, an arm of Catholic Charities, and the St. Vincent de Paul Society. When women in My Sister’s Place or families referred by St. Vincent De Paul move into new housing, they are provided with necessary items.

H.O.P.E. recently moved into a new facility in Glen Burnie, which is being used as a distribution center for furniture. Its other warehouses are used to sort and distribute incoming donations, particularly clothing, linens, towels, school supplies and basic household needs.

H.O.P.E. is powered by volunteers, as more than 50 assist the ministry throughout the year. Leo Zerhusen noted a spike in numbers during the summertime, with young children and teenagers volunteering with confirmation classes or to gain service hours.

While H.O.P.E. has a budget for the work it does, most of the items provided to those in need are donated. Leo Zerhusen is grateful for various churches, grants, and private individuals who supported the ministry. Donations are vastly appreciated, he said, not just by the organizers of H.O.P.E., but also the recipients of its charity.

H.O.P.E. raises about 20 percent of its funds through yard sales and quarter auctions, which are open to the public, allowing people with limited income to buy various items in a dignified and discreet manner.

H.O.P.E also works with Opportunity Builders, Inc., which helps young people with special needs learn skills and receive job training. The young adults come in every week, assisting with sorting clothes, washing items and boxing them by size and type, a relationship H.O.P.E. seeks to expand.

“Other areas of involvement are being discussed,” Zerhusen said. The help from the OBI volunteers is always welcomed, and in thanks, H.O.P.E. gives the organization arts and craft supplies.

The Zerhusens’ desire to share Christ’s love through serving the needy has been recognized. Among the awards they have received are the “Maryland’s Most Beautiful People” Award, the “Citizen of the Year 2006-2007” by the Knights of Columbus, and the “Anne Arundel County Outstanding Volunteer of the Year.”

For the Zerhusens, serving others is about sharing Christ’s love, not getting recognized. They hope to get people proactive in caring for those in need.

“The world will only get better when we as humanity learn to be more compassionate, understanding, uplifting and willing to serve.” Leo Zerhusen said. “My life is a gift from God and what I make of it is my gift back to God.”

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Catholic Review

The Catholic Review is the official publication of the Archdiocese of Baltimore.