Stow -- If Margaret Leiphart were still here today, Chuck Rainier, development and marketing director for Hope Homes Inc., believes she'd probably say, "I told you so."

It was 50 years ago that Leiphart -- a pious and devoted member of Grace United Church of Christ in Akron known affectionately to many simply as "Aunt Margaret" -- first shared her vision for a faith-based organization that could support the developmentally disabled through their adult lives.

However, the Rev. Dr. Paul Kiewit, whom Leiphart shared her dream and a $5 bill with to get the organization going, notes Leiphart didn't merely share her vision with him, she imposed it.

"She had it all worked out in her head," said Kiewit, now 89. "This lady had no doubt this was going to take off, and all it was going to take was some time."

After that first $5, it took Kiewit 15 years of work, prayer and fundraising before enough money and interest became available to create Hope Homes' first two community-based group homes for the developmentally disabled off Norton Road in Stow.

Leiphart, who also had a developmentally disabled son, Robert, whom she called "Bobby," died in 1972 before seeing the dream she prayed for so devoutly come to fruition.

While Kiewit had his doubts whether Leiphart's vision would become a reality, he says Leiphart would rejoice over what the non-profit organization has grown to today.

"She was a very benevolent person, and this was part of her benevolent spirit that people needed to be interested in people like her son," Kiewit said.

"She was a person of determined prayer, grace and love who would give you the shirt off her back," he added. "She said if she didn't do this, she was going to let God down -- she said that with conviction -- and that's what keeps you going."

A Dream, A Prayer and a $5 bill

While Hope Homes celebrates the 50-year anniversary of the $5 transaction between Liephart and Kiewit that marked the unofficial founding of the group, the organization has been providing services for about 35 years.

Kiewit explained how Leiphart came to him with a small amount of money and a specific dream rooted in the love of her son for whom she was concerned might not receive proper care if she weren't around.

Hope Homes' name actually came from the bank account that initial money went into, which was named for Leiphart's faith-based hope.

"[Kiewit] indicated to me that he was the perspiration, while [Leiphart] was the inspiration," said Gwendolyn Matthews, Hope Homes chief executive officer. "He said when she came to him, he discouraged her. He told her it couldn't happen. He told me he gave her every excuse possible. But she looked him in his face and said, 'I've prayed about it, and God told me that if I take one step, he would do the rest."'

Kiewit did plenty of work himself, too. It took years of fundraising before the group had enough funds to buy land for its first homes. Banks weren't lending out money, and other churches and investors were reluctant to dole out their resources while Hope Homes was just an abstract idea with nothing yet to offer.

After nearly 10 years, the group had about $14,000, Kiewit recalled. One of the group's first board members ended up offering to sell about 42 acres of property in Stow for a "tremendously reduced price," which became the organizations breakthrough opportunity.

"They gave me the property deed, and we paid it off in four years because once you get a piece of property, you're no longer a dream, and that made all the difference in the world. That's when other investors began to come forth," Kiewit said.

Embracing its roots

While services were available for the developmentally disabled at the time, the only option for adults with the disabilities were to be placed in institutions, Rainier said. It wasn't until the late '60s that society began to re-think its approach to serving individuals with such disabilities.

It was about that time institutions were being eliminated and group homes were becoming the preferred norm for care, Rainier said.

Leiphart effectively realized a similar need for care about the same time the nation underwent a moratorium of its own for caring for the developmentally disabled.

Decades ago, Hope Homes had few resources. Today, it serves more clients than ever before and continues to expand.

Matthews said Hope Homes currently serves 81 clients across the state via services and its 25 group homes that are not just in Stow -- where its headquarters are located -- but also in Tallmadge, Akron, Wooster, Cuyahoga Falls, Hudson and most recently Canton, among others. Three home have even been opened in Southeast Ohio, although most homes are located in Northeast Ohio.

The story of the organization's roots continues to play a significant role in its mission today, which is underscored by principles of faith and family that were so important to Leiphart herself.

"Hebrew 11:1 states faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen," said Matthews. "The founders had the vision and hope long ago. Today, faith is the evidence of what was not seen 50 years ago, and as we move forward, we must have that same faith."

While Hope Homes continues to embrace the principles held dearly to Leiphart, it is also revisiting the significance of what can be done with prayer, effort and $5.

The non-profit organization receives most if its funding today from the state, Matthews said, but donor support remains as important as ever.

"We're asking for $5 from each individual," said Matthews. "If people choose to do more that's up to them. But we want to see what we can with that $5, too."

Rainier said Hope Homes would like to raise money to help pay for a new bus as its current one, made in 2001, is "on its last leg." A 2012 vehicle the organization needs will cost about $52,000.

Anyone interested in aiding Hope Homes can ask for Matthews or Rainier at the group's Stow offices at 2300 Call Road visiting in person or by calling 330-686-5342.

As the group moves into the future, Rainier said he couldn't stress enough how Hope Homes continues to embrace the story of its humble beginnings.

"It all began with just a dream, a prayer and a $5 bill," he said.


Phone: 330-541-9400, ext. 4179