A new Center of Hope (COH) chapter is offering relief — physical, spiritual and emotional —for rural Ohio families.

With an estimated 65 percent of rural Ohio living in a state of chronic food insecurity, Center of Hope CEO Dawnel Volzke and her husband, Richard (an ordained minister in The Wesleyan Church), have spent the last 20 years building friendships and connections and are passionate about meeting unmet needs in rural Ohio. They believe God has called them to serve this demographic.

“Here in rural Ohio, many people feel forgotten and unheard. Most social supports are located in the bigger towns of a county, which can be almost an hour away from where they live. Most major funding goes to urban centers or places with higher population counts,” Volzke said. “Yet, combined, rural Ohio makes up a large percentage of the [state’s] population. Part of our role is to encourage and lift spirits and to let people know they aren’t forgotten. If we don’t do this, then we aren’t doing our job.”

Providing fresh and healthy food is one way in which COH accomplishes this goal. Providing access to food weekly, Center of Hope “addresses the ongoing problem” of chronic food insecurity.

In early 2020, Center of Hope opened a location in Bladensburg.  Since this time, they have provided groceries for over 65,595 meals, feeding over 8,000 people from 12 counties, nearly half of those being seniors or children.

And though addressing these physical needs is central to its mission, Center of Hope is deeply concerned with the spiritual and emotional health of those benefitting from its resources.

Each person who contacts COH for help is met by a “care team” that collects information to evaluate that individual’s situation and how their specific needs can be met.

“Caring is needed to inspire hope,” Volzke said. “Feeding someone or meeting physical needs is simply not enough. We make sure they meet income eligibility guidelines (per Ohio Job & Family Services), we find out about their education, job, retirement or disability status, and we learn about any health or dietary needs they have. Most importantly, we let them know we care and begin to get to know them.”

Dedicated to holistically meeting people’s needs, Volzke said she and other COH volunteers are looking to build relationships with those they can interact with and serve. And, though a Christ-centered organization, Volzke said they want to have “Christ evident in our DNA. In a world where people aren’t always receptive to ‘church’ or Christianity, we can be a bridge builder and to help people to connect in a new way.”

As COH works to expand its area of ministry, ranging from food provisions to health and medical services, as well as educational services, the goal is to provide people “from all different walks of life” with a sense of community.

“We want them to get to know Christ in the way we go about our conversations, interactions and day-to-day being. This is what sets us apart and makes us different. It is who we are in Christ that helps us to connect so much more deeply,” Volzke said. “You see, we aren’t the Savior. He is. But we want people to deeply sense and to feel the power of his presence in our midst. It is through our daily work that he opens doors for us to minister.”

Though based out of Knox County, Volzke said that this COH chapter does not have defined boundaries. Everyone who comes is served in whatever capacity they may need. Rural communities in five Ohio counties are within 15 miles of the COH location.

“Some of the people we serve are Christians but are struggling with enough money to make ends meet,” said Volzke. “Many of the people we serve express to us that they feel beat down by the world and forgotten. This is especially true for some of the adults we work with who have experienced chronic trauma and stress. They don’t feel special and don’t recognize their own value.” Jeremiah 29:11 (ESV) is an important verse in our work: ‘For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.’ To have hope, a person must recognize that he or she was made for something special — that they are equipped with gifts and talents and have a purpose in this world.”

COH has several churches, businesses and individuals that partner with it. One partner is Conesville Wesleyan Church (CWC), located about 45-60 minutes away. The church partnered with COH  to host a mobile food distribution during COH’s “Season of Hope,” which provided food for thousands of individuals in five days at five different locations in rural Ohio. Through this partnership, CWC helped provide families with fixings for Christmas meals and supplemental groceries to stretch through the holiday season. Church volunteers have continued to help at COH on a weekly basis, and plans are in progress for the church to host a weekly mobile distribution in the near future.

The Greater Ohio District of TWC provided resources to enable Center of Hope to pick up and transport thousands of pounds of food to distribute to families who needed help during the holiday season.

Greater Ohio District is honored to be a part of what COH is doing in the state.

“When I made my first visit to the Center of Hope, I was amazed at what I saw and felt,” said Rev. Les Crossfield, district superintendent. “God has called the Volzkes to this ministry. I am excited to see what God is doing and helping the Center of Hope to reach people for Jesus.”

The COH and CWC partnership is a special one. Richard served in the Greater Ohio District as an assistant pastor in the past. Their love for TWC is one reason the Volzkes are excited that the ministry with CWC the Greater Ohio District continues to expand. It is because of their relationship with the district that COH found a great partnership with CWC.

For more information about and how to partner with the Knox County chapter of Center of Hope, visit its website or watch this video.