If our community is to be measured by how it treats those who have the least among us, we owe a great deal of thanks to those at Hospitality House for raising that bar.
This week, the nonprofit organization celebrated the start of renovation work at a Glenbrook Basin building just down the street from The Union that is planned to be complete by July and serve as “Utah’s Place,” home base for Hospitality House’s service to homeless people in our community.
But as one of the organization’s cofounders said at the groundbreaking ceremony, the building of the community’s first permanent shelter began long ago.
“The journey to these doors has been long and arduous,” said Joanna Robinson, cofounder of Hospitality House and president of its board of directors. Robinson has been there from the beginning with her husband, the late folksinger, poet and advocate for the homeless, Bruce “Utah” Phillips. Along with Cindy Maple, who eventually became executive director, Margaret Little, Janice O’Brien, Karen Terpening and the Rev. Don Lee, they comprised a group of community members who sat down in late 2004 seeking to provide our homeless residents with basic human needs of food and shelter.
In true grassroots fashion, the group grew with the likes of Jim Ward, Doug Lautzenhiser, Mary O’Brien, Mark Schlak, Theresa Lyon, Sue Gill and Frank Desplancke lending their hands, and by the following summer, the Foothill House of Hospitality was formed as a nonprofit organization.
Suddenly, those among us who seemed to have so little, in a matter of months, had not only food and shelter but also burgeoning support within the community.
Nearing a decade of dedication to homeless people, Hospitality House has not only provided for those in need but has also worked to enlighten others about those they serve. Reminding that those receiving their services are real people with real stories, some struck by hard-luck circumstances and others struggling with substance abuse or mental illness, but real-life human beings all the same.
In establishing expectations to be met by its guests, such as sobriety requirements and limits on length of stay, Hospitality House helped its own cause by showing such services are not simply a hand out but a helping hand toward a better life.
The result has been a community more receptive to the cause, on full display with children selling handmade quilts, artists donating their works for auction and myriad other community fundraising efforts. Such support has also been evident in the faith community’s embrace of the program with the original eight churches providing meals or shelter in the early days having now grown to 28 churches or faith-based organizations involved today.
From its humble vision of simply helping those in need to extending its spectrum of services and the frequency with which those services are offered with each milestone met, the committed core of Hospitality House’s volunteers has been there along every step of the organization’s journey.
And along the way, Hospitality House has helped those among us most in need by reminding each of us that “there but for the grace of God, go I.”