An affirmation of life
In 1978, Gail Grenier Sweet’s parents and young brother were killed in a car accident. Though understandably grief-stricken, she responded with inspiration and generosity. With funds from the newly-established Ted, Audrey, and George Grenier Foundation, she created HOPE Network to be an affirmation of life. A passionate, “Feminist for Life,” Gail wanted to provide an alternative to abortion. Her vision: to “give single mothers the courage to choose life.”
Evolution of a mission
In its first incarnation, HOPE House (as HOPE Network was then called) was a home for single mothers. Quickly, it became apparent that a network could serve more women more efficiently than a single household, and HOPE Network was born. The subsequent years tell a story of evolution.
Safe sleep - then and now
Initially, HOPE Network focused on pregnancy and the first year of life. Beginning in 1984, HOPE Network accepted and distributed used cribs to low-income single mothers. As concerns about product recalls and SIDS increased, however, the program evolved.
Today, single mothers receive safe sleep education along with a new Pack-N-Play, fitted crib sheet and wearable blanket to ensure they have the knowledge and resources to provide a safe home environment. Community partners are often engaged to ensure that our resources are able to reach single mothers throughout metro-Milwaukee. More than 3,001 infants have received a safe place to sleep from HOPE Network over the years. Read more about our crib program.
The newborn stage, of course, is only the beginning of the parenting journey. Accordingly, HOPE Network’s programs accompany mothers throughout their child-rearing years. Of course, this partnership has also evolved over time.
In the 1980s and ‘90s, “The Forum” brought together single mothers monthly for discussion, networking and speakers. This group aimed to build community among local single mothers. Mothers also had the opportunity to come together at other events - annual potluck dinners, holiday parties, and clothing exchanges. As HOPE’s geographic reach increased, however, so did the challenge of serving the entire metro area. Beginning in the 2000s, HOPE Network partnered with local organizations, including Second Saturday to provide a central gathering place. Now, instead of hosting, HOPE establishes partnerships with community members who can provide enrichment to member families. With HOPE Network membership, single mothers can enjoy family experiences that might otherwise be out of reach - Brewers and Bucks games, museum passes, festival tickets, and more. Members continue to connect with one another through these events and through social media.
Sharing resources and opportunity
Throughout our community, many knew the name HOPE Network from our quarterly newsletter, Network News. Having been in print for 36 years, the newsletter has gained a reputation for providing helpful resources and essential communication for single mothers across southeastern Wisconsin. Earlier this year we introduced Sharing HOPE, our new publication, to meet the needs of our growing membership. Sharing HOPE continues to be home to the resources and stories you love, now presented in an accessible and friendly format.
The resources that were available in Network News are now available on the HOPE Network website.
Investing in the future
In 1988, HOPE Network pioneered another powerful tool to empower single mothers - scholarships. Addressing the unique challenge of affordable childcare, HOPE Network’s scholarships may be used for either tuition or for childcare while the mother attends school.
This program, too, has grown over time. The first two scholarship winners each received $1,000. Thanks to our committed supporters, the program has grown to include more winners, repeat winners, and larger amounts. What does that mean? More women are completing their education, building family-supporting careers, and setting an example for their own children.
The world has changed since 1982 - innovations have led to unforeseen transformations, good and bad. What hasn’t changed, sadly, is need. Single mothers remain among the most overlooked and least supported groups in our community. They still confront the unique challenges of raising a child alone. They still want to provide the best possible future for themselves and their children. They still need support. And they still find it at HOPE Network.