Published December 11, 2020 at 12:00pm
Story by Kathryn Lomuscio. Photos courtesy of Hope Cottage.
Hope Cottage has been a fixture in the Dallas area for over one hundred years. Starting in 1918 as an adoption center, the organization has evolved over the years to meet the changing needs of the surrounding community. Today, they are much more than an adoption center; they provide a broad range of services and resources including adoption, foster care services, parent support, and teen education. The mission that drives everything they do is the belief that every child deserves to have a loving family.
The focus and intention that Hope Cottage places on the Dallas community as a whole drew Teresa Lenling, Hope Cottage CEO, to the organization this summer.
“This has been probably the richest three months of my career. It has brought me great joy and I am humbled by the programming and mission of this organization,” shares Teresa. “I knew about Hope Cottage’s great work, but until I started experiencing it first hand — talking with our caseworkers, learning about the various programs in-depth, and seeing all the beautiful moments start to happen — it really changed me profoundly. Hope Cottage creates sustained community impact that changes lives for the future.”
Teresa has had a life-long passion for education and community involvement, qualities she attributes to the influence of her one-room-school-teacher grandmother when Teresa was a girl in rural South Dakota. Her grandmother’s ardent love for education was infectious, as was her resourcefulness and commitment to helping others. “She taught me to look out for your community and your neighbor; to find ways to support others,” says Teresa. Teresa brought these convictions with her when she moved to Dallas ten years ago to work at the Perot Museum of Nature and Science as the Vice President of School and Community Development where she facilitated the museum’s education programs. Dallas won her heart and she decided to make it her forever home.
In its more than hundred-year history, the impact Hope Cottage has made on Dallas and the surrounding areas is undeniable. Carmyn Neely is an example of a life forever changed by their mission to find loving homes for every child. Carmyn was adopted through Hope Cottage in 1945, her mother staying at one of their former facilities for unwed mothers until she was born. She grew up with loving adoptive parents in Dallas and never left.
Carmyn and her parents remained involved with Hope Cottage throughout her childhood, attending Christmas parties and picnics with other adoptive families. As an adult, she began volunteering and eventually joined the board of directors for the organization. In January, she will step into the role of board president, bringing her extensive 40 years of experience in Texas public education, a sure asset for the organization’s educational initiatives.
“There are people on our board who have adopted, who have been adopted, who have fostered, who have some connection [to the mission of Hope Cottage]. The degree of caring that I have seen and experienced myself is almost spiritual,” Carmyn shares. “When you talk about adoption, you’re talking about the child, birth parents, adoptive parents, and the extended families that support all of these. We are in the business of families. Hope Cottage is a place where hearts burst with joy, pride, concern, and care.”
The holistic approach they take with adoption makes it unique, encompassing not only support and resources for children and adoptive and foster parents, but also birth parents. They have a strong emphasis on education, offering programs for teens in the public school system, for birth parents, adoptive parents, and foster parents. They also focus attention on helping pregnant and parenting mothers achieve success in their academic work, career, and home life. For Hope Cottage, relationship building and community engagement is a top priority and their staff goes out of their way to devote themselves to all the individuals and families that they serve.
“For so long, Hope Cottage has been known as an adoption agency, and we are so much more than that,” says Carmyn.
Last year, Hope Cottage placed 63 children in foster homes and consummated 15 adoptions. Beyond that, 4,668 children and teens received youth education services, 733 parenting clients (31% of whom were referred by Texas CPS) were served through individual case management and parenting workshops, and 682 professionals received training from Hope Cottage about understanding adoption. Furthermore, as the only non-sectarian adoption center in Dallas, Hope Cottage is passionately dedicated to access and inclusion, including facilitating trans-racial and same-sex adoption and providing resources for these families. Teresa is proud of this inclusion, saying, “It is who we are. It’s really important to us that when we say we are serving the community, that we truly are serving it.”
Inclusivity and accessibility are at the heart of their mission, and always have been according to Carmyn. “That’s Hope Cottage,” she says. “The whole world has changed and the beauty is that Hope Cottage has changed with it – but it has never lost its loving culture. There is no one that we don’t want to help.”
Hope Cottage knows that there are often barriers that stand between a child and a loving home. One way they tackle these barriers is by offering a sliding scale for adoption in order to make it an option for more families. Another way is by providing resources to set these families up for success through informational sessions, training programs, and adoptive and foster community support. Many families who are interested in adoption or fostering hesitate out of a lack of information. “Sometimes, having your questions answered is all it takes,” Teresa says.
The staff takes a personal interest in their families and are committed to working hand-in-hand with them through the process. The support doesn’t end there, either. Families have access to opportunities throughout the year where they can connect with other adoptive and foster families. “It all goes back to caring for people and meeting them right where they are,” Carmyn says.
The board has rolled out a new strategic plan this year and Hope Cottage is looking forward to new initiatives that expand their capacity to serve the community. To further engage with the work that they are doing in Dallas and the surrounding areas, be sure to follow their social media. Teresa and the board understand that the work they do in the community does not happen in a vacuum and are always on the lookout for corporate partners, professional educators, and donors to join Hope Cottage’s mission to ensure every child has a loving home.
“I have been so impressed with the nonprofit community here. I have seen how important philanthropy and the role of community is to building the community of Dallas. The way that the community comes together to support each other is impressive,” says Teresa. “It’s all about building relationships and leveraging community partnerships; how you can jointly come together to create lasting community impact. You never know whose life you might change.”
In the most recent State of Texas Children Report (2018), 1.5 million children were living in poverty. About 155,000 of those children were living in Dallas County. Heading into 2021, adoption, foster care, and youth services remain an urgent need in our community. To help support Hope Cottage’s mission to provide options and resources to local families, visit their website at https://hopecottage.org/hc/.