The year 2020 was a tough one for many nonprofit organizations across Martinsville-Henry County due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Travis Byrd, director of Hope Center Ministries, said it threw them all for a loop.
"You didn't know how serious to take it, or no one knew what was going on or what to expect," Byrd said. "We really thought this would be a 30-day thing at the most. When 16 weeks went by and some of our guys still hadn't seen their families, we knew that was not good for them in their recovery and it wasn't good for their families."
Hope Center Ministries is a men's recovery center located in Axton at the site of the former Irisburg Elementary School. The motto of the center is "Restoring Lives, Restoring Families, Restoring Communities." Byrd said in order to live up to this motto, they had to get creative throughout the past year.
"We incorporated Zoom for the men to talk to their families and meet up with their counselors," he said, "but we depend a lot on volunteers to help counsel and pour into the men as they walk that journey of recovery. I attribute a lot of our success to the men — they were sort of forced into a situation where they had to bond with one another, but they came together and created a strong sense of brotherhood.”
As the director, Byrd said he encountered a few "scary" moments as a result of challenges from COVID-19. One of these moments came from a local business that partners with the Hope Center to employ its clients.
"I got an email from (a local business) that they had to cut our hours and it said contracted work discontinued, and in parentheses, it said Hope Center,” Byrd said. “It was a huge portion of our monthly budget going out the door. I knew this was not a good time to go and look for jobs.”
Byrd said after calling the human resources representative, he was told he read the email correctly and Hope Center employees were on hiatus.
“I was a little upset — I told (them) we depend on this funding to keep the doors open,” he said.
Byrd said he prayed and decided he would lie down and give it to God.
“I woke up an hour later and had an email on my phone from the plant manager apologizing for the mistake and saying the HR representative misunderstood,” he said. “We definitely learned from that and found more places in the community for our men (to work).”
Byrd said they have formed partnerships with a local cleaning service and a mechanic to try and diversify their funding streams. India Brown, program officer at The Harvest Foundation, said part of what makes the Hope Center a model grantee is how they’re able to think on their feet and problem-solve.
“We admire them because when faced with challenges, they don’t rest on their laurels — they figure it out,” she said. “We appreciate that so much as a foundation because these men’s lives are at stake.”
Another challenge presented itself when nine of the men contracted COVID-19 back in September 2020. It led to a 14-day quarantine for everyone on campus, which Byrd said was a big adjustment because Hope Center is not a lockdown facility.
“We were able to get a lot of stuff done around the center and do a lot of group counseling with the men — we had some awesome moments during those 14 days,” he said. “What hurt us from that was the fact that we depend so much on our vocational training which makes up about 75 percent of our finances. Fortunately, we’ve been good stewards and the companies were willing to work with us and were understanding of the situation. We are grateful to our community partners like Nationwide and Fleetwood Homes and The Harvest Foundation because nothing was lost or sacrificed this year.”
Byrd said many of the men who are in vocational training at Patrick Henry Community College were able to work in classes virtually, and instructors were also great about letting them get into classrooms and workshops to get what they needed.
Although the pandemic presented its own set of challenges, Byrd said it also was a blessing in the sense that it created a stronger sense of community and family among the men. The church affiliated with the center, Compassion Church, was closed, but Bryd said the men still had church every Sunday and ate lunch together afterward.
“One of our biggest achievements this year was a very strong retention rate; we had very few men leave the program this year,” Byrd said. “I think that was because not only did the men really focus on their own recovery, but they carried each other through it. It definitely created more of a family atmosphere.”
Byrd praised the center’s community leaders, which are men who have been in the program for at least 90 days and show exemplary character and leadership.
“Those community leaders stepped up and played a bigger role than I did in making sure the house was clean, schedules were being followed, and really fostering that family atmosphere for the men,” he said.
One of Hope Center’s community leaders, David Adams recently began an internship with the organization, according to Byrd. Adams came into the program in April 2019, and when the pandemic hit, he was just going into the third phase of the program which is most exciting for the men — license and driving privileges come back, along with cell phone privileges, they’re getting paychecks from their jobs, and they’re able to see their families more. Byrd said when Adams finally got the opportunity to see his mother and he couldn’t, he set a great example for the other men in the program.
“He’s never had a day where he wasn’t positive and didn’t wake up with a smile on his face,” Byrd said. “He has more than two years of sobriety, his welding certification from PHCC, and he’s working almost every day at the center. He’s counseling other men and is such a huge inspiration for them. Character is what you do when nobody else is looking, and David is the definition of good character.”
The last graduating class at Hope Center Ministries had 16 men, according to Byrd. Of those 16, six of them are in the center three to five days per week and most of them are working either in Henry County or throughout the region.
“We’ve had great success overall, although a few of them are now disconnected from the ministry,” he said. “We all make mistakes and we all fall short sometimes. I’m not justifying what they do, but I’m not going to leave them just because they made a mistake.”
Byrd said he’s blessed to do what he does, and he’s grateful for the niche Hope Center Ministries has carved out in Martinsville-Henry County. He said there are other organizations doing fantastic recovery work throughout the community and he believes the center is essential to keep the momentum going.
“My vision and hope is that we can have another Hope Center in Henry County within the next few years because the need is so great,” he said. “You have to care and have a heart for the people you serve, and I’m extremely blessed to have a great staff with me at the Hope Center. At the end of the day, I can go back to selling insurance or working in higher education doing fundraising, but these men are either going back to jail or back on the street. I’ve been to too many funerals over the past few years to lay down and not let things work out. It’s all about those men — everything we do is all about them.”