Like its acronym, the center Helping Others Pursue Enrichment (HOPE) is offering people in need an expanded variety of services, including a newly implemented health clinic and additional floor space that will provide ample room for those services to be provided.

According to HOPE Center director Ellann Johnson, on an annual basis, the center provides 1,200 services to folks from across Cherokee County.

“The food pantry is your most utilized service, as is HOPE Kitchen,” she said, describing that “services” refers to the number of times a particular program is utilized, rather than the number of people helped.

According to a program brochure, the mission of the organization, located at 595 S. Ragsdale St., “is to provide emergency assistance to those in need, and to give them the tools and resources that promote self-sufficiency by pooling resources that provide assistance throughout a networking system deigned to prevent duplication of services.”

Programs include the Manna Pantry; a weekend backpack food program for Jacksonville ISD students, a lunch kitchen open from 11:45 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Monday through Thursday; a brown bag program for the homebound; an emergency prescription program and prescriptions application assistance program; a transportation program; support group, life-enrichment courses, a monthly job fair and a free dental program to those without insurance.

Now, it can add to its slate of offerings a health clinic, which kicked off Aug. 13, and is open from 9 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Tuesdays and Thursdays.

“We've had a wonderful response – we've been full these past two weeks,” Johnson said of the mission, adding, “it runs parallel to our mission.”

Elaine Ballard, an area nurse-practitioner, who holds a doctorate in nursing, spear-headed the program, using resources leftover from grant funding from another project.

“ An opportunity came about with Dr. Ballard, who had additional grant money to use from UT Tyler – we talked to the people of UT and they told us that it would be a good idea, so she used it to buy the extra equipment for this building. We wanted to go ahead and get started because the grant ends in August,” Johnson said.

Ballard knew of the HOPE Center through her work in setting up the dental program there, as well as being a part of the East Texas Human Needs Network.

“She's familiar with the needs here and has a heart for giving and doing (for others),” she said.

Ballard said as a family practitioner, she sees an array of patients, ranging from children to senior citizens.

The clinic, which – per visit – charge $10 for a new patient and $5 for established patients who have no insurance – offers simple exams and low-cost labs, courtesy of TrinCare.

However, it does not provide immunizations, for lack of facilities in which they can be secured, Ballard said.

“But we're partners with Cherokee County (Public) Health (Department), who offers immunizations and certain other projects that are more public-health related,” she said. “We're also working with ACCESS, and they're going to help provide some of their services for us, and we can see their patients too. “

Ballard said her hope is to be able to help grow the program in the number of volunteers who can see patients, as well as find someone who can help run the clinic's office.

The new clinic is partnering UT Tyler to be a training ground for their program's nurse-practitioner students, because “they're always looking for clinics to train and nurse preceptor (instructor), so I will be a preceptor for UTTyler nurse-practitioners,” she said. “And we're partnering with the undergrad nursing program in their community health rotation to provide us with somebody to do the nursing part.”

Another goal is to be able to secure more grants, “to get more things in place so that eventually, we can see people on Medicare, Medicaid or private insurance.

For now, the clinic operates at the HOPE Center, but Johnson is hoping that by the beginning of the year, it will be moved next door, into a building that once housed Marie's Christian Bookstore.

Earlier this year, an anonymous donor offered to put up the $50,000 purchase fee for the site, and “the Austins saw that we wanted to retouch the building, and donated, $60,000,” Johnson said.

Along with a $100,000 grant earmarked for renovation, “things are moving very quickly,” she smiled. “We're hoping to be in the building by the new year, and we have several vendors we're working with who will make sure that happens. So, we're starting to get underway in the next 30 days or so”

In the meantime, the floor plan of the center's original building will be reconfigured, Johnson added. “Right now we're planning to move our pantry next door, then our clinic as well, and we'll be expanding the (existing) kitchen/dining area in to the (space where the pantry currently is). And we'll create an inside pantry area for our kitchen.”

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