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Hope Unlimited celebrates 25 years

BY LAUREL BLACK lblack@paducahsun.com

Hope Unlimited has grown up.

The nonprofit, which boasts branches in Paducah and Metropolis, was born as a prayer group in a hospital basement. After 25 years, it's evolved into a care center that seeks to address all aspects of family life through a broad menu of services.

"A lot of nonprofits serve a certain need, like hunger or shelter or joblessness," said Anne Bidwell, the agency's director of development. "And we're doing a little bit of all those things, but really our main concern is helping parents emotionally and building up that sense of integrity and confidence that maybe they've never had anywhere else."

The Christian organization's original goal was to help with crisis pregnancies among teenagers. It now offers a prenatal medical clinic, where local obstetrician/gynecologist Dr. Jorge Cardenas volunteers his services, as well as free and confidential counseling and mentoring, parenting classes, a men's ministry, a thrift store and an education-based rewards program called Learn to Earn.

Through the rewards program, moms, dads and couples can earn money to spend at the thrift store by attending mentoring sessions and classes on subjects such as anger management, nutrition and baby CPR.

"We're not serving children, but they're our indirect clients. In the end, we want mom and dad to be feeling great and healthy and strong and providing. By doing that, their children are going to get maybe a better start in life than they did," Bidwell said.

It's a strategy that slowly strengthens the entire community, she said. Program alumni have been known to come back and volunteer, or refer their friends and relatives to the organization. As the children reap the benefits of empowered parents, Bidwell hopes, they'll be equipped to make their own contributions to the area.

The family care center has survived its 25 years through private donations - for example, the Knights of Columbus recently raised enough money to give it an up-to-date ultrasound machine and are in the process of finding funds for another - as well as local grants. Hope Unlimited doesn't receive any tax dollars or state or federal grants, and 90 percent of the staff are volunteers, Bidwell added.

Without a steady source of income, "the fact that we've not survived, but thrived is still amazing to me," she said.

The organization's Paducah location saw 174 visits in April, May and June, while the office in Metropolis saw 84. Although many of Hope Unlimited's clients are facing job loss or other financial hardship, Bidwell said families from all walks of life are welcome.

"We'll accept them the way they are, and we're prepared to give them the help they need."

The organization will hold its 25th Anniversary Giving Gala at 6 p.m. Sept. 16 at the Julian Carroll Convention Center. It will feature speaker Julie Ziglar Norman, daughter of motivational speaker Zig Ziglar. Ziglar Norman recently went through a post-abortion counseling program - another service that Hope Unlimited offers - and will share her path to finding closure and freedom with attendees. There will be a complimentary dinner, and a donation will be requested at the end of the program.

For more information on Hope Unlimited, visit hopeunlimitedfcc.org.

Contact Laurel Black, a Paducah Sun staff writer, at 270-575-8641, or follow @LaurelFBlack on Twitter.

Want to go?

What: Hope Unlimited's 25th Anniversary Giving Gala.

When: 6 p.m. Tuesday, Sept. 16.

Where: Julian Carroll Convention Center, 1 Executive Boulevard.

Donations requested. Reserve a seat by calling 270-442-1166 or emailing info@hopeunlimitedfcc.org.

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