Executive Director of Zoe Institute Rhonda Clemons-Hill spoke to Claremore Chamber of Commerce members Thursday about Northeastern Oklahoma Regional Alliance, a non-profit membership organization dedicated to leveraging resources between Northeast Oklahoma communities, implementing regional plans for growth and prosperity.
Clemons-Hill told her story about how she was inspired to help single mothers after she lost her husband to cancer years ago. At the time, as a single mother of four children, including a newborn, she said she wondered how women who were worse off than she was handled the stress.
“I began to ask myself, ‘how do single spouses who are mistreated, working for minimum wage and who don’t have anyone, become happy and successful?’ I thought about this all of the time.”
As a successful grant writer and business woman, Clemons-Hill became interested in teaching non-profits how to treat their organizations more like a business to better assist people who were struggling.
About that time, George W. Bush pushed for faith-based organizations to receive more grant opportunities, she said.
“I got some friends together, began to brainstorm and decided I should start my own non-profit. That’s when I established Zoe Institute.”
She said Zoe is Greek for abundant life.
The institute began as a place where single mothers could go to become empowered and learn new thinking skills, such as financial literacy and the value of education.
“I didn’t know what the actual results would be at first, I just knew I didn’t want Zoe to be a crisis agency,” she said. “Eight years later, the results have been amazing.”
This year Zoe Institute received a six figure number in incoming grants and is now offering a large community warehouse where offices distribute food, clothing and furniture to those in need.
“What came out of my work at Zoe Institute was understanding the power of teamwork,” Clemons-Hill said. “We only had a single mom focus in the beginning, and what has grown from that is the ability to centralize the benevolence in one place for more than 12 churches, growing into a faith-based organization.”
As a faith-based organization, the institute was able to apply for grants, she said.
“Since we do work together as a unit in our town, whenever people in need call the churches, (staff) can funnel the call directly to us. We also bring in volunteers who want to help others through community projects.”
Zoe Institute currently has 60 volunteers from several organizations in Tahlequah.
She said that is what NORA is doing — uniting a 14-county rural region as a place for people to want to live, work and play.
“This can happen in the city of Claremore by getting residents and organizations on the same page,” Clemons-Hill said. “There is a lot of power in teamwork. If non-profit organizations communicate more and work together more on the same projects, than what you get are more volunteers, more money flowing in to help solve problems and better results.”
Similar to her interest in helping single mothers, Clemons-Hill said she believes everyone has something inside of them motivating them to make a difference.
For more information on Northeastern Oklahoma Regional Alliance, call (918) 822-7999.
To learn more about Zoe Institute, Inc. or to make a donation, visit zoeinstitute.com.