Saturday, February 26, 2011

Tough week

It was a tough week at Hope Alive. It started with our newest staff member breaking her leg requiring surgery, pins and plates. Ouch! She's on crutches and hobbling around the best she can and trying not to overdo it.

Then, another staff member had a stove fire in her apartment requiring a visit by the fire department. No one was hurt, but she was left needing a new stove and smoke smell in everything.

It was also an unusual week of having to make some really tough decisions involving residents. When it involves the lives of others, the decisions are especially difficult to make. Then God brought about a major heart change and that's what it's all about!

Then there was more disappointing decisions made by the Board of County Commissioners this week with their 25% cut to the County's Grants-In-Aid program providing critically needed funding for nonprofit services. This follows last year's funding cut to nonprofits with another 25% projected cut for FY13. Hope Alive submitted a grant for the current funding cycle so if it's rated and ranked among the highest, our funding from two years ago may be reinstated.

And every week we continue to hear the heartbreaking stories from families who are struggling to survive in our own backyard. This week, among others, we received calls from a mother dying of cancer and living on the streets with her two children and a woman with three children needing to flee violence in their home.

Even though it was a tough week, we were blessed to see the positive changes and continued determination of so many of our families as they press forward toward healing, recovery and self-sufficiency.

Please continue to pray for us, those we serve, and the many families who are homeless and on the brink of despair who need our help. Pray God will meet their needs and fill their lives with His life-changing love and hope of a future. As we've witnessed so much lately, we know God hears and answers our prayers! Until next week ...

Sue Oehmig
Founder and Executive Director

Friday, February 18, 2011

This week's highlights

This has been a week of exciting news! One of our resident moms passed her learner’s permit test and her pre-GED tests allowing her to register to take the state GED exam! She’s thrilled that she'll be driving soon and that college is now within reach!

Unlike most of us, one of our resident moms was anxious to visit the MVA this week to get tags and title for her very own car provided by Second Chance Garage in Frederick. Not only does this organization donate vehicles to families in need, but their required basic car care and budgeting classes help each recipient to keep their vehicles on the road. For our resident family, this is one more step forward toward independence and self-sufficiency!

And one more highlight of the week was the phone call we received from the Knott Foundation in Baltimore of their generous grant award to Hope Alive to fund our case manager position - a.k.a. Family Ministry Specialist! We are so grateful for the Knott Foundation’s belief in our mission and partnership in our service to homeless families. We'll feature this foundation in an upcoming newsletter.

I hope you’ll plan to join us for our upcoming Visions for Hope event on Thursday, April 28th. This is our really fun annual silent auction of children’s artwork - including our own Hope Alive children - to benefit our child development programs. Check out our website and Facebook page for more information on ticket sales, entry forms for children’s artwork, and event sponsorships. Hope to see you there!

I hope you're following the news of the Board of County Commissioner's decision last week to relinquish the federal Head Start grant and turn over the operation of this program to a federal contractor. We'll keep you updated as we start to see the impact and fallout of their decision in the coming weeks. Until next week …

Sue Oehmig
Founder and Executive Director

Saturday, February 12, 2011


This week I was speechless. It doesn't happen very often and doesn't last very long, but this week there were just no words I could find to adequately describe the decision and comments made by Frederick County's Board of County Commissioners (BOCC) at Tuesday's work session regarding the relinquishing of the federal Head Start grant. As a result of the commissioner's 4 to 1 vote to relinquish the funding back to the federal government, the Frederick County Head Start program will be turned over to a new federal contractor effective March 1, 2011. Commissioner David Gray was the only vote against it arguing they were making a rash decision.

Here are the facts presented by County employees at the BOCC worksession. Frederick County's Head Start program has operated in the county for nearly 40 years as a federal grantee and is a nationally recognized model. It's a 10 month program now serving 282 three and four year olds who are income qualified based on the federal poverty level. This is a national program that promotes school readiness by enhancing the social and cognitive development of children through the provision of educational, health, nutritional, and social and other services to enrolled children and families. The program employees 80 people and operates with an annual budget of $4,516,442 of which $2,223,451 comes from grant revenue including $2,003,686 from a federal Head Start grant. The county's contribution to run this model program is $2,293,093.

So by cutting this program, the savings to the county are $2.3 million which is the sole purpose for relinquishing the federal grant and all other associated grants.

What leaves me speechless is the decisions they made to relinquish the federal grant with seeming disregard to the impact on the children and families served. As of March 1, 2011, Head Start will be operated by a federal contractor as the interim operator (Community Development Institute Head Start - a Denver-based contractor) for about a year or more until a new contractor and federal grantee is awarded. Eighty county employees will loose their jobs effective February 28, but "hope" to be picked up by this new operator. I guess it's supposed to be comforting that this new operator will hold a "job fair" for these 80 employees slated to loose their jobs at the end of the month. These are not only "county employees", but teachers and advocates dedicated to serving disadvantaged preschoolers and families in Frederick County - including our very own Hope Alive children!

What leaves me speechless is that the BOCC believes the nationally recognized Head Start program won't be significantly impacted by the $2.3 million cut from county funding. With the move back to the federal government, funding will be limited to the $2 million federal grant, but the County Commissioners assured citizens that services for county children and families in the program would continue. The math doesn't work and and no program can sustain that
level of funding cuts and maintain the quality of its program and core services. In a meeting with Head Start parents Thursday night, the new interim operator warned parents that "without the county funding, he is unsure if all the services Head Start provides will be available when it takes over." It's also surprising that Commission Young believes that nonprofits should pick up this program. I guess he's not aware that nonprofits have been struggling to survive for the past three years to sustain critically needed county services that the government doesn't provide.

What also leaves me speechless is that all the preliminary discussion was done behind closed doors. Tuesday's BOCC worksession was the first opportunity for public comment on the proposed cut and parents and teachers only received word the day before that this program was up for final vote at Tuesday's work session. The interim operator is already at work transitioning the program back to the federal government. The cost for the county to relinquish the Head Start program is estimated to be between $650,000 and $695,000 to fund annual leave payout, severance pay, and unemployment insurance.

I'm sure most folks realize this is just not a preschool program, but it ensures every disadvantaged preschooler that's enrolled is prepared for kindergarten and has the best chance at school success. I speak and write often about the needs of very low-income including homeless children - even through this blog - and the great disadvantage they have compared to children from moderate income families. The Head Start program prepares disadvantaged preschoolers in Frederick County for school readiness and is used and needed as a supplement to Hope Alive's child development program to address the unique needs of homeless preschoolers and ensure they have the best start in school and chance for success in life.

And finally, what really left me speechless were the comments made by two of the County Commissioners in response to tearful parents' pleas to preserve county funding and operation of the program. I'll let their comments speak for themselves. I don't even want to reprint them here. I know the Commissioners' comments were not intended to be offensive, but they were. Check it out for yourself on the BOCC work session video at, the County press release at, and the Gazette articles at and The Frederick News Post articles are also available on their website.

It wasn't long before I found my voice again and I've been talking about it ever since. I'd love to know what you think. Better yet, let the Board of County Commissioners know what you think and let your voice be heard loud and clear! Thanks for reading. Until next week ...

Sue Oehmig
Founder and Executive Director

Friday, February 4, 2011

Moving forward toward hope and a future

For the past few months, one of our resident moms has been taking GED classes in preparation for the state exam. This week she took the pre-test exams and passed all the tests with flying colors! This means she can now register to take the state GED exam. Earning her high school diploma is one step toward her goals and dreams that will allow her to move on to college classes and pursue a new career. Prayerfully, she'll be proudly wearing her cap and gown this May at the Frederick County graduation ceremony. We can't wait!

One day on her way to GED class, this mom and Jody Julian (our Family Ministry Specialist) were chatting about her spiritual life and how God has intervened these last few months. In this mother's young faith and wisdom she said, "You never really know about God until you are really that down." God is intervening in her children's lives too. They are happy and well adjusted at Hope Alive and look forward to spending their days in our Children's Center. Just this week, the oldest of the two proudly sang the ABC song with another preschooler as we gathered for prayer. She was thrilled that her mom was there to hear her and beamed as we all applauded.

This mother's nightime panic attacks have now been replaced with peaceful sleep and she often speaks about the opportunities her family is blessed with now they have a secure, happy, and safe environment in which they can grow and thrive.

Please pray for this young mother as she prepares to take her state exam in the coming months. Pray for hers and every family who calls Hope Alive home as they dedicate themselves to important life-change and moving forward toward hope and a future. Thank you for walking this journey with us.

Let me know if you have any questions. I'll be happy to respond to them in my weekly blog or feel free to call or email me anytime. Until next week ...

Sue Oehmig
Founder and Executive Director