We were a perfectly normal family, by typical standards. My husband and I were professionals, active in our church and community, and involved the lives of our daughters. Our girls were good students, cheerleaders, and competitive dancers. They attended church and youth group and had a healthy circle of friends. We got along well.
Our oldest began experimenting with drugs and alcohol in high school, suddenly thrusting us into an eight-year battle with addiction. Stress and heartache exploded as we went from functional to not, operating in anger, fear, and resentment. Our youngest watched everything spin into chaos and found her control in eating and exercise until she was 75 lbs. and her health was in jeopardy. By the grace of God and the power of prayer, we found the right counseling for our daughters to overcome their addictions. I praise God that they are now healthy, productive, happy, and raising families of their own.
The summer of 2002, with these issues in the past, I heard the still small voice of God say, “I want you to use what you have learned, your time, talents, and resources to help families going through situations similar to yours.” My response? “Who me?? How do I do that?!” With the support of my friends Karen and Carla, we prayed and sought God’s will. He led us to the National House of Hope in Orlando, Florida. When we returned, we began the process of starting House of Hope Minnesota, which became Hope Harbor in the fall of 2015 in Marshall, MN. This organization, under both names, has been a Christian home that is a refuge for teens who need healing and restoration since incorporation in December of 2003, receiving our 501 C (3) in 2004., and becoming licensed by the Minnesota Department of Human Services in 2005.
The ministry received the donation of a home for our use until we were able to purchase it a few years later. We hired and trained staff, and then waited for the Lord to send our residents. They arrived in November 2005, and since then the Lord has sent over 70 other teen girls to us to receive a message of hope, healing, and unconditional love through Jesus Christ. The years since that warm summer day in 2002 have been filled with the generosity of many, faithful prayer warriors, dedicated staff, committed board members, and most of all with God’s tender mercies. We praise God for the blessings He has bestowed upon us and continues to give. We are most thankful for the work He is doing through us in the lives of the girls and families we serve.
Every family that comes through our door hears the gospel as the basis for their reconciliation, and there is no greater duty we can ask for. It is our blessing that God counts us worthy to love, serve, and help the families achieve functionality, parents become equipped, teens choose healing, and to see relationships restored. In the fall of 2015, after 10 years of providing service as House of Hope Minnesota, we made the transition to our new name, Hope Harbor. This transition has allowed us to continue to operate in the same capacity to which we've been called on a strictly local level. We look forward to 10 years and more as Hope Harbor!
Claudia Stenson, Founder, Hope Harbor
The vision to expand Hope Harbor into other communities came at an interesting time. Having just undergone big changes in the ministry of a new Executive Director and a transition to a private, individual organization, we thought "Really, Lord? Another home??" Prayerful consideration brought up southeast Minnesota as an ideal location. There, teens from Minnesota, Iowa, and Wisconsin could be served. Hmmm…
Our Executive Director attended a service at a church in Winona while visiting family. Curious if the pastor had any input on the need for Hope Harbor's services in the area, she sent him a quick email to see what he thought. The response from Pastor Brandon of Pleasant Valley Church in February of 2016 was three letters with two punctuation marks: “YES!!”
Cindy and Pastor Brandon met to answer one question, “What do we need to make this happen?” When Brandon heard the answer was a house, his response was, “We have one right here.” Hope Harbor’s expansion into Winona officially began.
The expansion team, led by Founder, former Executive Director, and now Expansion Coordinator Claudia Stenson, got efforts underway. Prayer led every step. Prayer for meetings with individuals in Winona interested in getting involved in the expansion were answered. Prayer about how to share the ministry’s story was answered. Prayer for somone to coordinate the effort on site was answered doubly.
The Advisory Board held their first meeting official meeting on October 25, 2016. Hope Harbor's first fundraising event in Winona was held on November 17, 2016. Nearly $150,000 was raised through personal contacts, events, raffles, and grants in the months thereafter.
Hope Harbor began renting a house owned by Pleasant Valley Church. Huge renovation efforts began, from installing egress windows to converting the garage into office space, remodeling the lower level and much more. The team truly made the house a home where teens can heal.
In August of 2017 we hired Mary Meyer as Site Director and Lael Lemire, working as Direct Care Staff in Marshall, relocated back to Winona to head up Direct Care Staff duties and help train staff in Winona. In the coming months we hired a teacher, counselor, and full staffing team. Hope Harbor’s Winona location officially opened in mid-October of 2017 and we placed our first resident just one week later! The Lord is doing an awesome work in Winona. Fruit is evident and more is coming. To Him be the glory!
In early 2018 when a suggestion was made to consider the property in Parker, meetings and plans were underway for possibly building just outside of Sioux Falls. Our Executive Director Cindy toured the property on February 15, 2018. It seemed so outside Hope Harbor in the context we were used to and outside the context we were currently pursuing. For most of us (but not all!), it just seemed so different, so the idea was set aside.
The spring, summer and fall that followed were wrought with opportunity to learn, grow and connect with others that hold the same vision as we do-to help teens and their families heal. As 2018 came to an end, we stood united with those in a common vision to do just that. And our avenue led to Parker, SD. In November 2018, a few of us again toured the property. We stood in the late morning light of an otherwise dark, cold and empty building and prayed together a simple prayer: Lord, make it clear, make it precise, and make it easy.
And has He ever. By the end of December, Hope Harbor held numerous meetings with city officials and the community to determine if Parker and Hope Harbor would be a good fit. The outpouring of support from the community made it clear that Hope Harbor would be welcomed home in that city. Connection after connection were so precise that it was obvious we were being directed there. The pieces that keep falling together have been so easy, we couldn't say no.
January 2019 brought the hiring of a Site Director for Parker, Jon Setzer and it also brought an amendment to a city ordinance before the Parker City Council for property usage. February brought the approval of that amendment and scheduled the first and second reading for March and April, as well as the start of the 28 Days of Hope Campaign. The following months brought a final approval, the formal purchase of the property renovations, hiring and training of staff, fundraising and more.
And November brought the teens and their families. October 27th of 2005, the Marshall, MN location's first teen arrived. October 25th of 2017 brought the first teen in our Winona, MN location. October 25th of 2019 we held the first family interview in our Parker, SD location. That young man arrived a few days later. To God be the glory!