"Hope Street has forced me to come face to face with my own brokenness and reminded me of my great need for a savior. It has encouraged me to live inside of His daily grace, and trust in a God who wastes nothing."
2023 Woman of Faith cultivates hope for those in need of housing, healing, and holiness
Sister Jean Schafer, SDS first witnessed the deep and remarkable faith life of Ashley Thomas at a panel on homelessness at St. Pius X Catholic Parish. As a result of hearing Ashley share stories about people struggling to overcome adversity and injustice in Milwaukee, Sr. Jean says, “I could feel her authenticity, passion, goodness, humor, and resilience.” By the end of the panel, Sr. Jean knew Ashley would make an outstanding nominee for our 2023 Woman of Faith Award.
Ashley is the Executive Director of Hope Street Ministry, “the Greenhouse for People on 26th and Capitol” in Milwaukee. Rooted in Christ, Ashley and her dedicated staff and board cultivate hope for broken men, women, and children in need of a safe environment to heal from toxic living situations, their personal choices, or drug and alcohol abuse. Pastor Darrell Hines, II, the organization’s board President, remarks, “Ashley sets a tone of compassion and grace while providing the residents and alumni of Hope Street with a role model for achievement and accountability.”
Though Ashley exhibits the qualities of a natural born leader, she did not step into a leadership role until college. She attended UW-Madison on a full athletic scholarship for basketball. Michelle Wille, the Executive Assistant at Hope Street, says Ashley has always been honest about the struggles of her faith journey during school. “She had a hard time seeing herself as anything other than a basketball player. Ultimately, Ashley shared that discovering her true identity as a child of God helped her process some of the toughest transitions in her life.” With time, Ashley grew from her struggles and now leads by example and with confidence. “We follow Ashley’s lead. She is a humble leader. She is bold and strong, but always has time to slow down and listen. She treats her employees with respect and never fails to remind us how valuable we are to her and the wellbeing of the organization,” Michelle explains.
Ashley is determined to create spaces where people – student athletes, Hope Street residents and staff, and members of the Milwaukee community – can explore and live an authentic and vulnerable Christ-centered life. Last year, Hope Street opened Shechem, a community center seven years in the making. According to Pastor Darrell, Ashley was key to the achievement of Shechem. “She led fundraising efforts that include running a marathon to raise pledged dollars, oversaw the construction of the building, and set the parameters for the programming that occurs in the facility.” In the Bible, Shechem is a town in ancient Palestine where Jesus rested; whereas in Milwaukee’s 53206 neighborhood, it’s a way to reduce unemployment, incarceration, and substance abuse, improve physical and mental health, increase high school and college graduation rates, and create community.
The 53206 ZIP code has the highest rate of incarceration in the United States. “The message of Hope Street and its affiliates opposes the depressing and racist labels this neighborhood is often given,” remarks Sr. Jean. “People flourish and empower one another to grow. The staff at Hope Street invite the problems in and cultivate hope by living out the ministry of Jesus on the north side of Milwaukee.” Ashley’s vision for Hope Street is to extend the grace and love of Jesus to all people, no matter their life circumstances.
While Ashley is more than the characteristics her acquaintances, colleagues, and friends ascribe to her, Pastor Darrell describes seven reasons why he believes Ashley Thomas is whole-heartedly a Woman of Faith.
“Competence in running Hope Street Ministry.”
“Vision for the people of Milwaukee, particularly those who need healing support.”
“Wisdom in dealing with residents, volunteers, and community leaders.”
“Transparency and willingness to invest in others’ lives, even when the process may be messy and emotionally costly.”
“Boundless energy in both her work and in pursuing her own continuing education.”
“Ability to connect with people irrespective of socioeconomic and racial differences.”
“Grace and empathy that are beyond her 33 years.”
Learn more at hopestreetminstry.org
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