- Associated Press - Sunday, January 22, 2017

HASTINGS, Neb. (AP) - It all started with a chance encounter in a park restroom.

Luke Kliewer and his wife Corina were out for their evening stroll around Brickyard Park when they happened upon a woman whose face was unfamiliar to them. As they were familiar with most of their neighbors, they found her daily presence in the park odd. She seemed out of place.

When Corina stumbled upon the woman’s belongings laid out on the floor inside the park restroom, the mystery was solved: She was homeless.

Sympathetic to her plight, the couple began bringing her food each night, supplementing their visits with Bible reading and conversation.

The woman’s situation was dire. She cried as she recalled how she wanted to get her kids out of the foster care system and be a family again.

The story struck a familiar cord with Luke, who himself had once been a child in the foster care system. Having served as foster parents for eight years, the Kliewers adopted two of their four children out of the system.

As he and Corina continued their daily walks in the park, they would pass a vacant building at 1818 W. B St. that seemed to hold out unexplored hope for people with nowhere else to turn.

“Here was this building that was heated and cooled all year round and we had someone living in the park bathroom,” Kliewer said. “We just felt like there was more that we could do. We felt like we had to do something, so we started to pray and see what the Lord had for us.”

Some four years later in October 2015, that prayer began to take shape. The owners of the vacant building, Kansas Nebraska Baptist Association, returned a call from Kliewer to inform him its denominational structure had changed and they were interested in pursuing a new use for the building.

Luke shared this information and his vision for starting a home to assist families in crisis with Dan Rutt, executive director of Revive Ministries. Between them, they were able to reach an agreement with the owners that confirmed Kliewer’s convictions that this project was indeed ordained to happen.

“When we talked to them, they asked us, ‘How much can you afford to pay a month?’” Kliewer said. “And I said, ‘Well, I don’t have any money.’ The guy I thought would be hardest to convince said, ‘Oh, yeah, we can do that.’ And they’ve given it to us rent-free for five years!’ “

And with that, Miriam’s Hope has become a reality.

The Hastings Tribune (https://bit.ly/2jsuTMO ) reports that modeled in part after the late Rev. David Wilkerson’s internationally successful Teen Challenge Ministry, the 12- to 18-month Christian-based program is slated to open its doors to two families by month’s end.

It will provide food, housing and a myriad of services for the families to help them break the cycle of homelessness and foster care dependency that in many instances has been passed on from generation to generation.

“The No. 1 reason for cyclical foster care through generations is not drug abuse, sexual abuse, or mental illness, it’s homelessness,” Kliewer said. “We feel like if we can give them a stable place, if we can stabilize their lives and where they’re living, and start every day with prayer and Bible study, that we’re going to be able to fill in all the gaps as we’re moving along.”

The objective, he said, is to keep the family unit together before it becomes dependent on the foster care system for assistance. This approach spares children the trauma of entering a system that is not only flawed, but lacking adequate resources to meet the demand for foster care across the nation.

“We’ve got to face the facts: We’re in a bad situation,” Kliewer said. “We’ve got a lot of hurt and pain when we take a kid out of a home and put them in foster care. They’ve done studies on foster youth, and found foster care youth have PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) at twice the rate of veterans.

“We have 400,000 kids in foster care right now, with 100,000 waiting to be adopted out in the U.S. So what we thought was, ‘Why don’t we catch them before they enter foster care? How can we find them before all this happens and start to rehabilitate them?’ We always feel like keeping the family together when they’re living for Jesus Christ is the best way.”

Services offered through the program will include drug and alcohol counseling and referrals, financial planning classes, work projects, parenting classes, marriage and relationship classes, mentoring with area families, GED studies, tech job training courses, tutoring and other resources to help families rebuild their lives through positive choices.

All services are reinforced with Christian-based teaching that includes daily Bible instruction and attending twice-a-week services at a Christian church of their choice.

“We’re not talking about families that have just fallen on hard times,” Kliewer said. “We’re talking about folks who have had some serious problems who bring some serious baggage, whether it be drug addiction, prison time or all different types of things.

“A lot of folks tell us on their application that they don’t have a support system. When we see that, that’s an identification to us that these people don’t have people to surround them and lift them up out of this. Our families will each have two mentor families when they’re here that they will meet with once a week - community families from areas churches that have volunteered to work with them to show them what a family is.”

Individualized case plans will walk each family through a series of goals and objectives it must meet to complete the program within the allotted time frame. Sending those who complete the program off with a house full of home furnishings helps them to hit the ground running as they make their transition back into society.

“Every family is different, so the 12- to 18-month gap allows us to work out any vagaries that are in there,” Kliewer said. “We have so much we want to cover with them, so we want to have as much time as we can to work the program.”

Operating strictly on donations acquired through fundraising, Kliewer said there are plans in the works to expand the fledgling program to reach more families as additional funding becomes available.

In the meantime, the focus will be on placing families ready to take full advantage of the life-changing services available to them.

“We’re really excited about what God can do,” he said. “If the families buy into who I’m taking advice from and say, ‘Wow, these guys really care about me!’ then they’re going to take what we say so much more seriously. We want to connect with people.

“We always need to protect the children, but the parents were kids at one point and they weren’t protected or helped. We want to break the cycle, but we don’t think you can do it with one generation. You’ve got to do it with the whole family together.”

___

Information from: Hastings Tribune, https://www.hastingstribune.com

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