There’s a lot of changes going on with Visions of Hope, a Farmington-based program that raises awareness and funds — as well as offers training and other assistance — for people on the autism spectrum.
The most noticeable change for the 4-year-old charitable organization is its new name — Hope 4 Autism. What isn’t changing is the leadership of co-founders Jessica Harmon and Luann Honerkamp, its executive director.
How Visions of Hope came to exist is an inspirational story that makes it clear that to Harmon and Honerkamp, it’s all a “God thing.”
“I have two sons, Garrett and Morgan, who are on the autism spectrum,” Harmon said. “Luann is their godmother and my best friend. It’s funny how God orchestrates people into your life. Luann had read an article about a young girl aging out of high school that had autism. Her parents couldn’t find anything — any kind of support — anything for her to do.
“Luann asked me, ‘What are we going to do about Garrett and Morgan?’ From that day on it was just lots of research and going to meet people who had different social enterprises. Then we did business classes, and then we did social entrepreneur classes at Washington University where we competed in their social entrepreneur contests.
“We learned so much and met so many people. We don’t have a business background, so God provided everything we needed, all the people we needed, and continues to do that. We would not have met all the people who have helped us get this far if it wasn’t for all those opportunities. We just keep praying for more likeminded individuals — parents, teachers, anybody — that cares about this mission and wants to come along beside us to help us branch out into these different areas.”
So why the name-change to Hope 4 Autism?
“We have so many different programs here,” Harmon said. “We have the Visions of Hope Vocational Training Program; Dress 2 Impress Resale, along with a free interview attire program; the Cleaning Crew; Autos 4 Autism; and Toys 4 Hope, which is a toy store within Dress 2 Impress.
“We see God continuing to develop us and branching out and growing more programs in the future as he brings others along to help us, but it gets confusing because there are so many things that we offer. So, we wanted to house all of our programs under one name. We also wanted to create a website that would house all of that.”
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Harmon stressed that Hope 4 Autism has always been and will always be a faith-based ministry.
“It’s all his!” she said. “He invited us into it — it wasn’t any of our dream at all. It’s just pretty amazing what he’s done and what he continues to do and how he continues to sustain and grow and touch so many people in our community and beyond — throughout the United States and different spots, as well.”
Speaking of the autism organization’s new name, Honerkamp said, “I just think it’s going to help people understand that when they come to shop at Dress 2 Impress that they’re not only coming in here and getting a good buy, but the money they spend here is also going to support other opportunities that we have for people whether they’re on the autism spectrum of whether they need interview attire.
“It will be able to help people understand and help things be more cohesive, so people understand that when they give to one thing, they’re also helping another thing. We want people to understand that they’re shopping with a cause or they may want to support autism, but they don’t know about Dress 2 Impress or that we’ve been here for four years. We still see people come here to shop that don’t know that that’s what we do.
“For nearly four years we have touched thousands of lives in our community by providing services that were lacking or simply nonexistent. We have served nearly 40 interns through our vocational and social skills training program specifically geared to meet the unique needs of individuals with autism.
We have had over 15,000 customers come through the doors of Dress 2 Impress Resale and have provided over 650 free interview and/or work outfits. We have also made a significant impact on providing opportunities for people to repurpose gently used clothing for men and women and hired three graduated interns through the Cleaning Crew.”
Honerkamp is especially thankful for the people of the Parkland who have supported the Visions of Hope program since its very start.
“It would not be possible without the amazing support from our wonderful community through shopping at Dress 2 Impress, attending our events, sponsorships and intern scholarships,” she said. “We are truly fortunate to live and work in such a giving community.
“The new branding represents change. Hope 4 Autism is changing because the world around is changing. Our organization is determined to go the extra mile to meet the needs of those in our community to the best of our ability. God has blessed us so that we can in turn be a blessing to others.”
Asked if there will be additional ministries added under the Hope 4 Autism umbrella in the years ahead, Honerkamp said, “We definitely hope so! We already have other things in the works. We don’t know when those will happen, but God has just provided us with so many opportunities that to reach other needs that we hadn’t really thought about — as the money comes and the volunteers come and as the opportunities come for us to branch out — then we’ll continue to grow.”
For more information about the organization, go to www.hope4autism.org.
Kevin R. Jenkins is the managing editor of the Farmington Press and can be reached at 573-756-8927 or email@example.com
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