At Fenton Center of Hope, the vision is “to serve our neighbors who are hungry and in need of resources resulting in a better quality of life.” The founders, Bob and Jennifer Strygulec, previously ran a Food Pantry and Baby Closet at the Freedom Center Church in Fenton. The couple founded Center of Hope as a non-profit in 2016. The husband/wife team eventually gave up their respective careers in finance and interior design to further their work in addressing the needs of the less fortunate and to provide even more services. “We knew we needed to be here full time,” Jennifer reports. “We see so many of the same people, generations of the same family reaching out for help. Bob had a heart to really do something to change people’s lives and to look at the underlying causes.” Bob adds, “Our thought was: What could we do to help people make a long-term, substantial change?”
And the way they go about doing that is by building relationships with those they help in order to gain trust, look at the underlying cause of their situation and find what is needed to fix that. One girl who came to the Center said she wanted to break the cycle of her family’s reliance on living on assistance. “She didn’t know any other way,” Jennifer shares. “It just takes someone to say, ‘I believe in you. I see greatness in you.’”
One homeless man came to the Center for help and rather than send him to a hotel – a temporary fix – they sent him to a shelter, where social workers helped him file for disability benefits and find a home. “His whole life has changed!” Jennifer exclaims. “He called and thanked us. If we would have put him up in a hotel, he would have still been in the same situation. This is the foundation of what we do through education and by building relationships.”
Bob spoke of a situation in which a woman appeared to have income sufficient to meet the family’s expenses. She shared with the Strygulecs that her husband had a drinking problem and she was only given $50 a month to buy food. “We would never let anyone go hungry,” says Bob. “We don’t have hard and set rules,” adds Jennifer. “We will help anyone, but it might not be in the way they would choose.”
Drug addiction can be a contributing factor to homelessness and poverty. Bob shared the story of a man they helped, a heroin addict who suffered seven overdoses. His addiction had many underlying factors that needed to be addressed, going back to his childhood and how he was raised. He is now thriving, has a good job and moved out of Michigan with his girlfriend. He stays in touch with the Strygulecs and frequently calls them. “You treated me like family,” the man told the couple. “You never gave up on me even when I screwed up.”
Fifty volunteers devote time to Center of Hope, some who are former teachers, a retired attorney and even former clients, Bob reports. One volunteer, Nancy Jenkins, is the full-time receptionist and office manager who has been the heart of the Center for many years. “She is our right hand,” says Jennifer. “She has dedicated her life to this.”
Center of Hope offers a food pantry, baby closet, pregnancy resource center, and a variety of classes and resources. The facility serves the needy in Fenton, Linden and Holly. And while many people find it surprising, the area has a homeless population that needs help.
“We have ideas in the works to make a bigger impact and serve the community even better!”
According to Bob, turning to a food pantry for assistance can be a humbling and difficult decision. “We strive to make each guest feel welcomed,” he says. Services are tailored to meet the specific needs of each family. The pantry is set up as a mini-grocery store, so that people can choose the food they need and prefer rather than simply being handed a box of items.
“They can choose anything they want,” says Bob. “Having a choice allows dignity,” adds Jennifer. Classes are also available, such as crockpot cooking and meal-planning. People who complete the crockpot cooking class receive a brand-new crockpot, and T-Mobile has donated crockpot cookbooks. Pet food, household and personal hygiene products are also available.
Families make appointments to shop at the food pantry, and there are guidelines set based on family size. The pantry serves approximately 210 families each month with goods supplied through food drives, local businesses, school and church drives and events at Freedom Center church. Food is also purchased from the Food Bank of Eastern Michigan.
Center of Hope has built partnerships with about 70 different businesses, organizations, agencies and churches. “They help us and we help them,” says Bob.
Once a month, families can make an appointment to come to the Center and select clothing and items for their babies and young children. The closet has clothes size newborn through 5T, diapers, wipes, formula, baby food and equipment. A team of experienced volunteers is available to help new mothers, with the goal of building a lasting relationship with the parents and their families, and getting them connected to small groups and with other members of the community.
Life Skill Classes
Along with cooking classes, the Center of Hope offers classes on budgeting, literacy, improving credit and basic parenting. Teachers are all volunteers. “Our classes are tailored to a person’s individual needs,” Jennifer reports. “We try not to make them generic.”
Pregnancy Resource Center
This service provides help and support to women experiencing unexpected pregnancy through counseling, relationship and resources.
Throughout the year, Center of Hope holds various informal events, such as barbecues and special meals as a means to gain trust and form relationships with those they help. They give away about 200 Thanksgiving baskets every year and Christmas baskets filled with toys and clothes.
The Center is always looking for volunteers, according to the founders. “We are always looking for partnerships and people to sponsor food drives,” says Bob. Monetary donations are also important, as the Center can use that money to purchase $100 worth of food for just $10.
The Strygulecs live in Fenton and have three children and one grandchild. Their hope is to continue to serve the communities they love. “We have big plans for the coming year!” exclaims Bob. “We have ideas in the works to make a bigger impact and serve the community even better!”
Photography By Kayce McClure