Planned State College thrift store to help foster children who age out of system

bmilazzo@centredaily.comFebruary 14, 2014 

A State College man hopes to parlay profits from his new thrift shop to build a transition house for kids who age out of foster care.

The idea for New Hope Thrift, which is slated to open by the month’s end, came from New Hope Church members last fall, after the South Atherton Street congregation saw a growing need in the community.

The ideas is to partner with programs that strive to improve the lives of at-risk local children and pioneer new initiatives designed to help young people in the area, said the Rev. Ben Frank.

New Hope Church was founded in 2005 with a vision to connect with college students, make a difference in the community and encourage people to grow in their knowledge and love for Jesus, Frank said.

After holding services at various locations in the Centre Region, the church found a permanent home at 318 S. Atherton St. in August 2012. It’s affiliated with The Brethren Church, and is a part of the City Church and Centre County Orphan Care Alliance.

The church has worked with the alliance since its inception in 2010, said Brian English, thrift store general manager.

“Our church is passionate about helping orphanages, and the idea was stemmed from the desire to serve the community,” English said. “I think a lot of churches do missions overseas, and there is a need here that hasn’t been met. So many think of State College and think of affluence, and other issues are overlooked.”

The mission is to help raise money for orphans in Centre County and make a difference in the community, English said. The long-term goal is to open a house for those who age out of foster care so they are not thrown onto the streets.

“You hear so many stories of these kids getting thrown out of the program, have no jobs, no skills, don’t know how to create a budget and don’t know what to do with their lives,” English said. “We have this vision to create space for 15 to 20 kids and help them learn basics of life.”

According to statistics from Orphan Care Alliance, 68 children are in the custody of Centre County, living with either foster families or in residential facilities, often due to circumstances involving abuse or neglect. Eighteen of them are at least 13 years old, and there are 50 children under age 13.

In the past three years in Centre County, there were 44 children who aged out of the system without ever having found a permanent family, according to the alliance. There are 62 Centre County-based foster families.

There are also 100 local children on the waiting list for Big Brothers/Big Sisters.

Frank, of Boalsburg, who also is a foster parent with his wife, Shannon Frank, said it would take the church a few hundred thousand dollars and several years before the long-term goal is met.

The church and its approximately 10 volunteers who help run the thrift store are in talks with professionals, foster families and orphanage agencies that will help the future of the thrift store, Frank said.

“We know it’s going to take a while, but we’re committed to doing it and not just throwing something together,” Frank said. “We intend to work with professionals and build those relationships so we know how to organize this appropriately. We want a complete understanding of how this whole thing works and have more involvement directly.”

English said money raised through the thrift store would be used to pay store expenses, while 30 percent of funds would be distributed to families and organizations in need, and another 20 percent of funds raised would go into a separate savings account aimed specifically toward a transition home.

Until the thrift store finds a permanent home, it will be based out of the church from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. Thursday to Saturday.

Donations have been rolling in since November, English said. In the fall, New Hope purchased merchandise from an Altoona-based thrift shop that was going out of service, English added.

“We have received numerous donations and encouragement from people who have caught a vision for what we are doing,” Frank said. “We even have students that gave up part of their winter break to help things get up and running. It is exciting to see young people investing their time to improve the lives of kids in Centre County.”

Frank, father of five biological children, ages 18 months to 10 years old, became a foster parent with his wife a little more than a decade ago.

The opportunity to be a foster parent came when Frank was working at a church in Akron, Ohio. He said a foster family at his former church pointed out a little girl who was up for adoption, and the story completely pulled on his heartstrings.

“I never envisioned being a foster parent, but things kind of fell into place,” Frank said.

He and his wife were part of an emergency home for children to live in for no more than a month at a time; however, the Franks fostered three children for nine months. When the couple had their own children, they ended their time as foster parents but are hoping to have more foster children when their biological children get a bit older, Frank said.

“It’s one of those things that is close to our heart to find a home, belong somewhere and raise kids and provide them with a loving environment,” Frank said. “There is so much need here in our own community where we can help.”

New Hope Thrift will have a grand opening 5 p.m. Feb. 28 with live entertainment.

Britney Milazzo can be reached at 231-4648. Follow her on Twitter @ M11azzo.

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