Tammy Abernethy: Renewing Hope for At-Risk Teens and Women Across Arizona

To highlight organizations leading efforts in propelling strong communities, Philanthropy Roundtable is highlighting Hope Women’s Center. Philanthropy Roundtable believes the American spirit is generous, with neighbor helping neighbor to uplift entire communities. To propel further investment in entrepreneurial approaches that strengthen communities, we are highlighting leaders and initiatives that cultivate local civil society and support the values that transform lives.  

Philanthropy Roundtable recently sat down with Tammy Abernethy, CEO of Hope Women’s Center. Hope Women’s Center takes a holistic approach to helping at-risk teens and women throughout Arizona. In addition to pregnancy resource centers and maternity homes, Hope Women’s Center offers skills classes, mentoring, career development support, counseling and much more.

Q: Tell us about Hope Women’s Center, your mission, history and focus.

Our mission is to engage, encourage and equip women and teen girls facing any difficult life situation. We do that very holistically through programs that really seek to meet her physical, emotional and spiritual needs. We serve roughly 1,500 women a year.

We started in the mid-80s as a standalone pregnancy resource center in Apache Junction, Arizona. As the organization grew, the women who were leading it saw the same girls coming back in for pregnancy tests and options counseling, which is what we initially focused our services on. But they were also dealing with abuse, poverty, addiction and many other issues.

That’s why they expanded the mission to be what it is today, with a focus on holistic care. Since 2013, when I joined the organization, we’ve gone from one to six day centers throughout Arizona. We also have a maternity home in our Camp Verde location.

We do a lot of collaboration with different nonprofit organizations throughout the state on anything from housing, jobs, food banks or clothing resources. We want to work collaboratively to better serve the communities where we’re located.

Over the last year, we’ve offered over 9,000 client visits, almost 14,000 hours of job training and classes and about 3,000 hours of mental and emotional support. We’ve given out 31,000 pounds of food and almost $11,000 in utility assistance.

Q: What motivates you and your work for the organization? What’s driving you?

I raised my kids as a single mom, so I know how hard it is. I had a college education and support from my family, church and the community, but still found myself in an abusive relationship. There were days when I thought, “I can’t do this. I don’t know how to do this.”

I felt that way even with tools and resources at my disposal. These women are coming out of abusive families, with no support, no education. And so that’s really what drove me as I joined Hope Women’s Center.

I have an awesome team. Most of us come into this with our own stories, and that I think gives us such compassion and passion for what we’re doing. It’s amazing to watch women really succeed and thrive.

Q: Tell us who your typical client is. What does she look like?

We have clients from their teens all the way up to their 70s. The majority of our single moms though are in the 20- to 30-year-old age range with multiple kids, living at or below the poverty line. They’re struggling to provide basic needs for their kids.

Most of these women have come from some kind of abuse — either domestic violence or sexual abuse, so there’s a lot of trauma. We’re constantly working to understand trauma and how it impacts the women we serve long-term.

We see teen girls who are struggling, as well as women in their 60s or 70s who don’t have any family or resources. They find themselves homeless or grappling with emotional or mental health challenges.

Q: What are some of the main obstacles they’re facing?

Women in crisis are usually very isolated. They don’t even know which resources are available — they’re just trying to survive. In addition to isolation, trauma and abuse are very common obstacles.

As a trauma-informed center, we make it easy for a woman to walk in the door. She doesn’t need an appointment. We try to meet her exactly where she’s at and address her immediate needs. Then we work to get her engaged so we can tackle some of those deeper needs, like emotional healing and the spiritual component as well.

Lack of education is also a big barrier. A lot of the women who apply to our maternity home dropped out of school and have never been able to sustain a job. We now have resources to help them finish their education and develop the skills they need to provide for their families.

Q: What are some specific ways you support their physical, emotional and spiritual needs?

All of our services are free. In our day centers, we offer life skills classes – and women can come in with no barriers or requirements.

Classes range from cooking, exercise and art to addressing trauma, abuse, parenting and healing from conflict. Our clients want to learn healthy parenting, and practical job and communication skills. Some need to learn English and the basics of reading, writing and literacy.

A client earns points every time she takes a class or talks with a mentor. Then she can shop for necessities with those points in our on-site boutiques. As she invests in taking classes, works on healing her own trauma or learns the skills to be more independent, she’s able to use the points to provide for her family.

We also provide cash utility assistance. She can take some of those points and apply them toward her utility bill.

In addition to this, we offer a mentoring program. Women are paired with a mentor, who acts as a life coach to help them one-on-one. Mentors help them meet their needs, define their goals and help them feel empowered. We have a support group as part of that.

During the pandemic, we launched our Hope Heals counseling program because we were seeing mental health needs go through the roof, as well as an increase in abuse during that time. We have a licensed psychologist on staff. If a mentor sees that her client needs deeper help than life skills and life coaching, we can refer her to Hope Heals.

We also offer faith-based classes, especially as they relate to knowing one’s value, her identity and her worth. Many women coming out of abuse have never had someone to tell them they have value, purpose and dignity. The spiritual aspect is introducing them to that.

We’re a Christian organization, so we offer Bible studies and other instruction we think would be helpful from a spiritual standpoint. But everything is a want-to, not a have-to. We want each woman to determine what she wants, which parts of our program to participate in and which areas of her life she wants to work on.

What matters to us is that she knows that she has worth, value, dignity, that she’s loved, she’s never judged and there will always be a safe place for her.

Q: Can you share one or two success stories of clients you have served?

Recently, a woman from the Phoenix area reached out to our day center. She was pregnant, in recovery from substance abuse and desperate for somewhere to live. She had a long history of struggle and a lot of trauma and abuse in her past, but she wanted to turn things around.

She applied to our maternity home. I remember the first time I hugged her. She had been on the street, and she probably weighed 100 pounds, pregnant. Now she’s been with us for a year. She’s thriving.

Our Department of Child Safety did get involved because when the baby was born, she showed signs that her mother had been using. But they let our client keep the baby and stay in our maternity home under our supervision. They just closed her case because she’s doing so well. The baby is healthy. In another couple of weeks, she’ll be a year old.

We have a thrift store in Camp Verde, so we employ women there as part of their job training. She’s done so well that, as she’s graduating, I asked her if she would reapply as a regular staff member.

When the women graduate from our year-one program, they have saved 80% of what they earned that year. She’s graduating with several thousand dollars — a really nice cushion for her. In our next step program, she will rent an RV from us and stay on our property for more affordable housing.

She’s paying graduated rent and she’s learning. Another year from now, she’ll be able to pay regular rent somewhere else. She’s really become a leader with some of the other moms who are struggling. How far she’s come in a year just blows my mind.

Another woman who has been with us in our day center for a couple of years initially came in as a struggling single mom with abuse in her past. She went through our classes and mentorship program, but she was still struggling with grief, so she entered our Hope Heals counseling program.

That’s when she finally got help for some of the deeper trauma, and now she’s thriving. She has a job and feels so confident in her parenting abilities. We were even able to get her daughter into a private school through some scholarships. Now, the mom works at the school part time as well. It has been really neat to see her grow over the last few years.

Q: What do you see for the future of the organization? Where are things headed?

We’ve seen a 31% increase in women coming to us in one year. They’re coming out of the COVID-19 pandemic and finding themselves in so much crisis, with inflation and housing costs. We’re seeing a huge need for more staff and day centers.

We’re looking into future day centers, innovations for housing and more help for women. Even if we’re able to get them into a shelter with a partner organization, our clients still come out needing affordable housing. So we are looking at some creative ways to help with that.

Q: If money were no object, where would you want to take the organization?

We would definitely hire more staff. We need more staff members to continue to offer free child care at all of our centers, do more case management and offer more crisis counseling.

We would also open more day centers, because we have that model really well developed. It’s easy, and we can open them pretty inexpensively. In that manner, we could reach more women in rural communities and help with housing gaps, even for single moms who are working but can’t afford rent.

Hope Women’s Center is included in Philanthropy Roundtable’s Opportunity Playbook, where you can find more information about their impact and programming. If you are interested in helping to accelerate this organization’s impact, please contact Philanthropy Roundtable Program Director Esther Larson.

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