By: Tom Nees, Founder of Community of Hope
Forty years ago, as the Community of Hope was evolving from a small group of believers committed to joining with the neighborhood development needs near the so-called, 14th Street NW Riot Corridor in Washington, DC. And we needed a name to capture the vision and the motivation of our mission.
While our origins can be traced to the early ‘70’s, as the ‘80’s neared, two organizations were operating. What began as a small inner-city church had by then made plans to incorporate a non-profit partner organization with its own independent board with the capacity to raise funds to support neighborhood development programs, particularly emergency housing for families experiencing homelessness and health care for the neighborhood.
We searched for a name that would identify both organizations. I don’t remember all the suggestions, but I do remember the moment when an idea came to others and me. My wife, Pat, and I were returning to DC from a visit to a ministry in Virginia with a similar mission. Suddenly the name came to us—Community of Hope.
It seemed right. We wanted our small faith group to be known as a community—in the spirit of Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s book “Life Together” that we had been studying as a group. The depth of our service together was so much for us and in many ways different than the other churches we had known. And, inspite of the destitution the riots left behind, we were hopeful that the ruined neighborhoods where we found ourselves could and would improve, and that the people would be transformed.
A newspaper reporter walked through the neighborhood to see for himself what was going on. He described our block as a ‘pit stop on the way to hell.’ But we knew there was something much better there that often escaped the view of the press or casual visitors. There was resilience, commitment, and community. The name would prove to be well-received in the neighborhood by the people we came to serve. One afternoon, a mother who was homeless walked by our building on Belmont Street with her children in tow. She walked in, inquired about emergency housing, and was offered a temporary apartment. Sometime later, I overheard her comment while looking at the name on the sign. She said, “my family and I needed both and we found it here—community and hope.”
BIO: Tom Nees led the original group of committed and faithful healthcare professionals, lawyers, housing advocates, and social workers who both worshipped together and served together in the formation of Community of Hope, Inc and Community of Hope Church of the Nazarene. Tom is currently founder and director of Leading To Serve, Inc. He has a life-time of leadership experience in the religious and nonprofit communities. He served as pastor in local churches. Through the Community of Hope, he also organized the Institute for Racial Reconciliation in 1990 as an educational forum to engage students, local residents, and community leaders in seminars to advance racial understanding and cooperation. In 1995, Dr. Nees became the USA/Canada director of Nazarene Compassionate Ministries and from 2003-08, he served as the director of the USA/Canada region for the Church of the Nazarene.