“Love your neighbor as yourself” (Matt.22:39). That’s what Hope Unexpected, a Michigan-based organization serving young single mothers and their children, strives for when helping families. To love them and love them well, said executive director Susan Lickley. She’s finding that mission even more important with instabilities currently amplified by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Hope Unexpected began in 2012 when members of Heritage Christian Reformed Church and First Reformed Church in Byron Center, Mich., wanted to start a ministry to serve single mothers. Over the past eight years the non-denominational nonprofit has grown to the point that it’s always full with a waiting list. In January, the nonprofit opened a duplicate location at Westend Christian Reformed Church in Grand Rapids, Mich.
“Being on a waiting list when you are pregnant or just had a child and need the help just doesn’t work. It became very clear that we needed to open a second location to surround these women,” Lickley, said. “Westend (CRC) had fully open arms.”
With a grant from Buist Electric to get this location started, the Grand Rapids West site offers the same services as Byron Center. The Monday Meets include discussion groups for the young mothers, classes for their older children, and a nursery. The groups are kept small to develop close relationships. They also offer resources such as counseling services, safety and money management courses, and other supports.
“How can we love our neighbors and how do we love them well? ‘Good enough’ is not loving your neighbor—we need to love them well, in tangible ways,” said Lickley. “So we give them gas cards. We help fix their cars. We hand out diapers and wipes. We have counseling available for both the moms and the children. Everything we do, we want to do it well.”
COVID-19 has changed the way Hope Unexpected serves these families. The Monday Meets are now aided by technology. Mentors call and text the young mothers to check in. They intentionally pray for each family. Volunteers and staff hand out groceries and deliver diapers, wipes and gas cards. They were also able to provide handmade, donated masks to the families.
“This pandemic has had a huge effect on the moms. We have had more mental health issues. Women have lost their jobs, and the ramifications of that is scary. It’s been very difficult to see what some women have accomplished—like getting a car or legitimate insurance—and now see them financially wiped out,” Lickley said. “The communities in Grand Rapids West and Byron Center have really stepped up to help. We’ve had a lot of churches and groups donate diapers and wipes—it’s been such a huge blessing. We hope the community continues to step up and support us financially.”
The organization has had to cancel planned fundraising events, like a June golf fundraiser to sustain this second location. Lickley said they are trusting God to provide the financial resources to keep going. She also prays that their trust and hope will be evident to the families they serve.
“I do think that God uses hard, complicated situations to bring people to him, and I have to trust in that. I hope that happens—I pray for it,” said Lickley. “That somehow amidst this hardship, these women can understand more clearly how having God in your life can fill you with so much hope.”