Changing Lives, One at a Time
Sandra Shank’s first encounter with the foster care system was deeply personal. Her sister lost custody of three children, one of whom Sandra raised. Later, as a teacher and school administrator, Shank observed the loss of hope among youth in foster care. The need for a stable, loving environment was more than an overburdened public system could provide. This realization led her to found Abundant Life Ministries–Hope House Inc., a nonprofit residential home for boys aged 13 to 17 in foster care.
Hope House, opened in 2003, provides physical, emotional and social support for its residents. Typically, boys come to Hope House after repeated moves within the foster care system. Their histories often include running away, homelessness, sexual abuse, inappropriate interpersonal behavior or exposure to human trafficking. The average stay is 18 months.
Shank develops and directs educational, recreational and administrative activities, including interviewing potential residents and managing the staff of 24/7 caregivers. Her overriding goal is to make Hope House a positive experience for its residents. In July, Shank took the boys on a four-day trip to Orlando, Fla., to enjoy some summer fun.
“She has been there for every kid,” says Blake Meeks, who came to Hope House at age 17, thinking it was just another placement. “She could have given up on me,” he says, “but she understood when I lashed out and wasn’t quick to judge.” Meeks attended a military academy and earned his GED.
Now 27, Meeks is married and employed by a railroad company. “Sandra finds a way to move people,” he says. “She never talked down to anyone but helped them see there’s a better way.”