How We Met Chest of Hope
When Merlyn Pittman first reached out to us this summer looking for assistance and a core supplier to launch her charitable store, we were deeply honored and absolutely thrilled. The idea that we could help support an organization here in the US, by providing beautiful pieces from women artisans that might otherwise be in more vulnerable in circumstances in Africa, was a “full circle” proposition that holds a lot of meaning for us. Kanju and Chest of Hope both felt a “kindred spirit” link between them, and we are thrilled to share their story as they launch their very first store with a core collection of kanju products.
Read below to learn more about Chest of Hope and the incredible things that the organization, and Merlyn, its Founder, have achieved, in her own words.
Transforming Lives and Creating Hope
Chest of Hope is a charity organization focused on raising funds in support of orphans and women who had experienced domestic violence globally; and eventually expanded its efforts to include the provision of education, intervention and support to individuals and families.
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Info from Wikipedia.com and Chestofhope.org
Q: What is Chest of Hope and its mission / purpose?
A: Chest of Hope was born out of the need to really assist orphans and battered woman on a global level; more so, the orphans. That, eventually, grew into what it is today, which is a safe place that provides shelter, counseling services, and a plethora of other programs for the community at large.
Q: How long has Chest of Hope been around?
A: Chest of Hope has been around since 2004; so, we’ve had our turn around the block, so to speak. The shelter services and programs that we provide now started in 2011, but we have been recognized by the IRS since 2004.
Q: What is your background and what inspired Chest of Hope to come about?
A: My background is in law enforcement, specifically in corrections. So, I worked at a prison that housed women, sometimes for life. I saw their plight, witnessed their demise, and a sort of affinity grew from there. I was better able to understand what these women are going through, especially being in battered relationships; the kinds of relationships that they think there’s no way out of. But personally, my goal is to reach the young women who think, to put it in terms of the ‘street’, they want a ‘thug’. They like the hard-core guys and stuff like that so, my goal, is to keep them from that lifestyle and potentially going to prison.
Initially, when I started Chest of Hope, we were just sending money across the globe to people in need; churches and other non-profit organizations were contacting us, and we would fund them. However, locally the need grew to the point where woman started calling and asking for shelter services. So, we listened, and we acted upon it, and now it has grown into something that’s phenomenal.
When someone first enters the program, they have four days to destress. We require nothing of them, they don’t have to do programs, they can sleep all day long, just come out and eat. That’s so they can climatize themselves with their environment, and then they meet with a therapist, and we go from there.
Q: What has your organization accomplished to date? What are your goals for this upcoming year?
A: Any time a client can leave our program and not return, that is a big highlight for us because what we do now is provide transitional housing. So, we don’t have the traditional 30 – 35-day program where it’s like a revolving door and after 30 days they must find another program to go to, whether it’s for shelter or anything else. We have a program that is 9 months to a year, based on the clients needs, and we walk them through a series of programs and case management based on their individual needs.
Our milestone for 2022 is we would like to have our own facilities, because a lot of the houses that we have our woman, families, or human trafficking victims at, are rentals; and that’s a lot of money going out. So, we would like to have our own facilities, which probably starts with owning land. So that’s our goal: own the land, and then we can grow and expand upon that.
Q: Can you share a story of an individual whose life has been changed because of your organization?
A: You know there’s a lot of those. The most recent one, as recent as, I would say, last year, was a very young girl who was not our normal clientele. We do this sometimes, we don’t only take battered women or women and their children, this young lady, for example, was homeless. She was only 19, she had steel bars in both her legs, she was living on a park bench, and all she owned was a bicycle. So, when she came to us it was because she was beaten up the day before, and they had taken her bicycle. As a mother, the case workers came to me with this girl’s plight and I said ‘no, we have to house her’.
She was very challenging because she was so used to being independent, she didn’t want to take any orders from us. She was really an interesting case because, when she came, she never sat down to eat. She would stand with her backpack on her shoulders and just gobble the food, breakfast, lunch, dinner. That’s how she was. So, we had to win her confidence, because she was raised to be ready to flee, so we had to really work with her. When her case managers had meetings with her, she would storm off… there were a lot of issues. Our therapist worked with her and long story short, she is now reunited with her parents. We had to show her that it was because they cared that they had placed restrictions when she had to be home and that sort of thing.
So, in a nutshell, she was very rebellious. She had gotten in an accident because she had gone somewhere with a boyfriend, and they crashed; hence the reason she had to wear braces and had bars in both her legs. I think that’s one of our most challenging ones because she did not know what she wanted at the time. She just knew she couldn’t sleep on a park bench anymore and she came, but she fought to the nail. But she did a nice video for us upon her departure, and she wrote a letter to me, thanking me for the program and, like I said she’s back home in her own bed. I think she spent 10 months with us and the fact that she appreciated what we did, I was not expecting that.
It’s a life changing experience for them but, on the other side, it’s so rewarding for us. My staff cries sometimes, cheering them on and that sort of thing. You know, we empathize with them and sit with them until they are ready to talk and that sort of thing; and a little pat on the shoulder, we do give that as well.
Q: What would make the greatest difference in helping your organization continue to grow?
A: It boils down to finances. Realistically we also have a thrift store, and we get lots of donations and stuff but when the light bill is to be paid, I cannot take a lamp and pay that bill or buy food or any of the other amenities that need to be taken care of. So, we’re always seeking funding, that is very much appreciated, because there’s so much to be done. It’s a never-ending cycle, as one leaves, one comes, or three come. I try to tell my staff, “Don’t say you work for a non-profit, say you work for a charitable organization” because that connotation of saying ‘non-profit’ means we will never have profit.
To spill the beans, one of the homes, last month, had a bill of $660. We must prepare for things like that because it’s very hot here in California, so the AC is running more, and it’s not the resident’s concern. The homes we run, we don’t charge anything, they come with what’s on their backs and that’s it. Those who don’t have much, we give them a voucher and they go to the thrift store, and they get suited up.
Q: In what ways can people support your cause aside from making financial contribution?
A: We accept any and all donations. The only things we don’t accept is electronics and mattresses. Last year when COVID was at its peak, people donated a lot of cleaning supplies and food, and we were very appreciative because that came in so handy. Nothing goes unused, we put everything to use.
Q: How has COVID affected your organization?
A: There have been a lot of different situations. With COVID we got a lot of calls, however, we had a lot of people who were calling in just for counseling because they were stuck at home with their abuser. We can only take so many people, once we are full, we’re full, so we couldn’t assist them in that way, but they were craving the counseling and being in a virtual room with other woman who shared their stories and experiences. At the end of the counseling session, you would hear them say things to their pears like “pray for me, I’ll pray for you” and its very heart wrenching; and they have kids, so they can’t just get up and leave in the middle of a pandemic with nowhere to go. So, they looked forward to that weekly counseling session. We, actually, had finished our course this month for the summer and many of them are already checking in asking when’s the new class beginning.
Q: What gave you the idea to start a store?
A: It was to supplement the grants we were getting because the grants are very ‘cut-and-dry’. You say in your grant “I have 10 employees and I’m going to pay this employee XYZ” and that’s all you get. So, any extras, we must find it on our own. In the past we’ve had various events, one of our major events was our L.O.V.E War which is Leave Out Violence Everyday and that was the highlight of our organization, but we haven’t had it in two years now because of COVID and we probably won’t have it again. So, these are the things that we’ve had to deal with to keep our doors open; so we do what we have to do.
Q: How are you planning to organize and staff it?
A: It will be the people who already work here, and we will have ecommerce as well so we will have online and in-person shopping and, we are hoping, the two ways combined is a win.
Q: Why did you decide to work with Kanju?
A: It was the feeling I got when I spoke to you guys. I really felt drawn to you, I felt that you connected with my organization on a level that was genuine. It was surreal. We connected and we just started talking. It wasn’t like “ok, lets see what she’s all about”, no, we just flowed. It was natural and I felt very comfortable with everyone, and the rest is magic.
Q: What are your personal favorite Kanju products?
A: The new pillows. I love those and I’m going to get myself a pair. They are so beautiful; I think I’ll be my first customer. I love them and they are so uniquely made; it’s a very intrinsic design.
This organization has been doing wonderful and important work for the past 10 years, and they don't plan on slowing down!
If you want to learn more about Chest of Hope, their mission, and ways you can provide support, click the link below to head to their website for more information!