Tousled hair. Tired eyes. She sat on the cold, hard ground outside the subway station in Manhattan, eye-level with the strides of hundreds of passersby each morning. None of which took the time to glance her way. To them, she remained faceless. Nameless. But Kathryn Morris (MS 19) knew Alyssa by name.
“I just started stopping to say ‘Hi,’ and to see if she needed anything,” said Morris, who chuckles, recalling that, at first, Alyssa tried to make her go away. “But I started actually showing up for her. If she said she needed something, I brought it. If she was panhandling, I sat on the ground next to her. And if she needed to go to the bathroom, I sat there and panhandled for her.”
“Managing a nonprofit organization is not always pretty,” Morris admits. But when she witnesses women like Alyssa go from panhandling on the streets to renting a home, getting a job and going back to school, Morris will tell you it’s more than worth it. And when women like Alyssa volunteer their time to help other women facing homelessness, Morris will tell you that seeing the women flourish is like a dream come true — a dream that only God could put on her heart.
A Ball State telecommunications major, Morris saw a future for herself in sports reporting. But her path to managing a nonprofit organization to serve the homeless began when she went on a spring break trip to New York City with City Relief, a nonprofit providing food and resource connections to the homeless. On that trip, her eyes were opened to the daunting reality of homelessness.
That following summer, she returned to the City Relief headquarters in Elizabeth, New Jersey, for two weeks and fell in love with the ministry. “Once I was immersed in it, I saw the depth of the relationships that they were building with people,” said Morris. “It showed me how those relationships could impact somebody’s life, and I knew it was something I wanted to do.”
When graduation rolled around, she packed her bags to help at City Relief once more. This time, for six weeks. After the six weeks were up, she intended to return to Indianapolis to pursue her career in broadcasting. But God had other plans.
By the end of the six weeks helping with the mobile soup kitchen, Morris moved to New Jersey to work full time with City Relief as volunteer coordinator. But after a year in her role, God began to reveal that City Relief was not the final destination he had for her.
“I had been feeling discontent with the work,” Morris recalls. “Not that we weren’t doing good work, I just felt like there was more. We would pull up to a location for a few hours, and then we would leave, and they were still there.”
One day, while at a prayer meeting, Morris felt God plant the idea in her heart, “What about a shelter for women?” She was only 24 years old and had no idea how to start a nonprofit, so the notion felt overwhelming and preposterous. “Someday, God,” she thought, as she filed the idea in the back of her mind.
But over the next several months, the discontentment continued to grow, and she realized God had given her a direction; it was time for her to respond, “Yes, Lord. I’ll go.”
In February 2013, Morris quit her job and moved to New York City.
“That time was about growing the vision and figuring out what the organization was supposed to be,” she said. “I still did not know how to start a nonprofit, and I tried to convince God that there was someone else.”
But through that time of prayer, Morris realized that there was no one else; that “someone” was her. In September 2015, Morris legally founded Restore Hope, an organization with the simple vision of giving all women struggling with homelessness the opportunity to flourish. In 2016, Restore Hope officially received its 501(c)(3) status.
The ministry began as a mobile outreach, which provided prayer, care bags and referrals for women. While the reach was substantial, Morris felt the relationships were lacking. So in 2017, she transitioned the programming to include what she called “Community Game Days.” These informal gatherings invited women experiencing homelessness to the park for a morning of friendship, games, nail care and coloring. Restore Hope would provide participants with snacks, hygiene kits, resource information and more.
After getting the dream in motion, Morris, who had only taken one business course in college, knew that if she wanted the organization to grow, she needed to expand her knowledge of the nonprofit sector.
“Things would come up, and I wouldn’t even know what questions to ask the right people,” Morris admits. “Looking back now, I honestly had no idea how to start a nonprofit when I started Restore Hope. If I had, I probably would have said ‘no.’”
After a quick Google search, she found Grace’s online Master of Nonprofit Management degree and was immediately drawn to it. She appreciated that the degree would be instructed from a Christian perspective and, unlike most programs offered as a concentration or emphasis, it was strictly focused on managing a nonprofit organization.
“From the moment Katie and I had our first conversation, I knew that she possessed a special gift for serving women in desperate need,” said Dr. Steve Grill (BA 70), director of Grace’s Master of Nonprofit Management program. “The fact that a very young Hoosier would transplant herself to New York City and single-handedly begin Restore Hope was a testament to her passion, intelligence and drive.”
She began the program in January 2018 and saw an immediate impact on Restore Hope. “I was able to use Restore Hope for all of my projects,” she said. “Now I feel confident in every area to at least know what to ask. And the courses on grant writing and strategic planning have been great.”
Through her courses, Morris began to shift Restore Hope’s programming to a mentoring model, where women facing homelessness would be matched with women of similar interests.
“We want to give women the opportunity to build deeper relationships,” said Morris. “Some shelters in New York call women by their case number and not their name. It’s very dehumanizing, and it makes it easy for them to give up. We want to have someone there for them who says, ‘Do I know all the answers to your problems? No. But we’ll figure it out together.’”
Halfway through the online program, Morris moved to Washington D.C. to replicate the model. “I always knew the ministry would go beyond New York,” said Morris. “While homelessness doesn’t look the same from place to place, everyone can use a mentor.”
Shortly after finishing her master’s, the global pandemic put an unwelcome delay on her plans. The years 2020 and 2021 were challenging for many homeless services in cities across the nation, forcing many to close down altogether. And while Morris was unable to launch her new programming, she remained a constant and committed resource for the women with whom she had established a relationship. After demonstrating great patience and diligence, Morris officially introduced the mentorship model at Restore Hope towards the end of 2021.
“It’s such a daunting situation,” said Morris in response to the more than 500,000 Americans experiencing homelessness. “There are so many people, and there is no way you can help everyone. But when you help one person who helps another person, it just keeps going. When you do what you can, it goes beyond just you.”
With the long-term goal of offering transitional housing to women, Morris is in the beginning stages of opening a day center for women in D.C., providing snacks, a library and potentially even art classes and Bible studies. While looking toward future possibilities is energizing to Morris, it doesn’t come close to the joy she finds in seeing lives changed.
“We want women like Alyssa to know they are loved, they are known and they have potential,” says Morris. “Everything we do is for their flourishing.”
To learn more about Restore Hope, visit restorehopeforwomen.org.
Want to learn how to start a nonprofit? Interested in taking your current ministry to the next level? A degree might be what you need to manage a nonprofit organization and have a greater impact in your community. You can earn a Grace degree at your convenience with Grace Online.