For the girls: Music and a message on card for Come Thirsty event

MARSHALL ? House of Hope Minnesota, a Christian home that serves as a refuge for hurting teen girls, is presenting Sweetwater Revival in concert, for its annual “Come Thirsty” event this weekend.

The all-female, southern gospel quartet is known nationally, having been nominated for Female Group of the Year in both 2008 and 2009 by the AGN Music Awards, the Sunrise Diamond Award by Southern Gospel Scoops Magazine and Quartet of the Year by the Sunrise Awards.

“We’re really excited about having Sweetwater Revival for our event,” said Claudia Stenson, HOHM founder and executive director. “They’re a great group.”

In addition to new entertainment, the annual event offers a short time of praise and testimony from girls at HOHM. Coffee, juice and cookies are also available during intermission.

“Anybody who enjoys good music is invited,” Stenson said. “We encourage people of all ages to attend.

There is no cost to attend the event, but a free-will offering will be taken at the end of the program, which begins at 3 p.m. Sunday at the Schwan Community Center for the Performing Arts at Marshall High School.

The fundraiser serves a number of purposes for HOHM, which was incorporated in 2003. The non-profit organization was licensed and began taking in girls in 2005.

“One of our purposes is to bring good family entertainment to our community,” Stenson said. “The second is to increase awareness about the House of Hope.”

The residential program currently serves six girls, who live, learn and grow at HOHM for 9-18 months. The girls receive Christian-based counseling, schooling and life lessons.

“The program is for girls ages 13-17 who are participating in some sort of self-destructive behavior,” Stenson said. “The parents are also involved every week. They play an active role in the healing process. While the girls are here, they receive counseling, individual and group, on-site schooling so they can keep up with their academics, and technical life-skills, like assuming responsibility, getting along with others and developing healthy leisure-time activities.”

The third purpose the Come Thirsty event serves is a financial one.

“We raise funds to help make it possible for girls to come, regardless of their financial means,” Stenson said. “We are a privately-funded organization that uses no state or federal dollars. We don’t turn anybody away because of inability to pay.”

HOHM’s mission is to bring healing to the girls’ lives and restore their families if at all possible.

“It’s about teaching them what to do when bad things come, because there will always be bad times,” HOHM counselor Kim Sanow said. “But what they learn can set them free.”

Sanow said she loves what she does, but that she only considers herself the delivery person.

“The girls have to do the stuff,” she said. “They’re my heroes. They’re the ones doing it, changing their lives. That’s the beauty of what we do here. We give their daughter’s a chance. They’re the ones that are to be applauded.”

Sanow has seen the family reconciliation program assist a number of families in the past seven years.

“We teach the skills they can use to lead a more productive, satisfying life,” Sanow said. “It’s a cool program. Everyone gets to pick what they take with them. We teach them skills and love them. So many girls can’t even look at you or hug you at first. They know they’ve made mistakes, but so does everybody. They just need somebody to validate them. Once here, they’ll always be part of our family, too.”

In today’s world, Sanow said, girls have been so hurt that they don’t trust other girls. But they need good friends.

“Girls need to be able to talk more,” she said. “We need to treat each other kindly. Kids that are picked on are more likely to self-harm and struggle academically. It’s a vicious cycle.”

Providing a safe environment where the girls can learn who they are and dream about the future is critical, Sanow said.

“If you went to hug them early on, they’d jump,” she said. “Now, they come at you with open arms because they know it’s safe. The goal is to get them home, so they might go home the entire weekend. As it’s going well, they spend more and more time at home. We prepare them to move back home.”

If a girl’s home life is unacceptable, HOHM launches her into life.

“If a girl isn’t able to go home again ever, if the parents didn’t do their job, we’ll help her get a place to live and find a job or an internship.”

In these changing times, Sanow said, it can be easy for parents and teens to get distracted, but quality interaction is necessary for the healing process.

“It’s not just about watching TV together, but maybe playing a face-to-face game with their kids,” she said. “It’s about listening to their child, looking at them and paying attention.”

Along with a spiritual component, the program also provides community service opportunities for the girls.

“We teach the girls to give back to the community,” Stenson said. “The girls go to Boulder Estates twice a month and paint nails for the residents. The last two weeks, they’ve also delivered meals on wheels. They also get involved with other projects, with United Way or the Food Shelf, those kinds of things.

Through the HOHM organization, non-residential counseling is available, as is an anti-bullying outreach program, the L.O.L. Club, which equips girls to recognize the effects of bullying.

While appreciative of the support in the Marshall area, Sanow pointed out that there is still a need in the community. In the future, she’d love to see HOHM reach out to boys, too, which some organizations across the nation do.

“We just keep plugging away,” Sanow said. “All the donations go to support the families who can’t afford to pay. They’re helping families get healed. We’re full, so it just breaks our heart to tell people that. And the nearest HOH is Kansas City. We’re hoping and praying about expanding, and we’d love to expand for boys.”