History of Hopeworx and the HopeMarket

HopeWorx, Inc, evolved from the Consumer Satisfaction Team of Montgomery County (CST). CST was established in 1994 with the mission to measure satisfaction of mental health consumers with mental health services. From the beginning the company committed to accomplishing its mission while employing people who have lived experience with mental illness. Individuals who use mental health services develop and conduct the surveys, as well as provide office support including data entry and analysis. This commitment led to the creation of a unique workplace atmosphere that supported the employees’ personal recovery journeys, giving people the opportunity to gain skills and make connections with each other which formed a natural support network.

At the same time, the CST’s surveys were showing that even while satisfaction with mental health services was increasing with the growing influence of the recovery movement in Montgomery County, some challenges seemed to never improve. Year after year, people reported that living in poverty created barriers to accomplish even basic goals such as living where one chooses, finding employment, transportation, clothing, furnishings, and food.

Some of the staff of CST began to look for ways to share the natural support network they had created in a way that addressed the barriers related to poverty that they continued to encounter in the mental health community. Sandra Watson and Sue Shannon talked to the board about forming a parent company, called HopeWorx, to be the parent of the CST, as well as a new venture with the mission to create a community where mental health consumers could provide natural supports with each other. The board asked for more structure and focus for the new venture before proceeding with the establishment of a new parent company. With the help of former CST board member Mark Boorse, a strategic planning committee was formed with support from Rob Reid, the CEO of Access Services. The committee started meeting in September of 2009. Committee members included some CST board and staff as well as people from other agencies who were interested in the notion of finding a way to facilitate peer support ventures.

The committee focused on the activities that CST staff members were already doing to support each other and people in the community, including organizing social events, trading favors like apartment cleaning, and helping people move. The discussions focused on how to find a way to promote these supports among people who did not have enough financial resources to pay for services. Mark Salzer from Temple University visited one of the meetings and suggested bartering as a structure to allow people to share resources, which led to the committee looking into LETS (Local Exchange Trading Systems) as a way to provide a currency for bartering. As it turned out, Resources for Human Development (RHD), a local southeastern Pennsylvania agency had already introduced a “community currency” called Equal Dollars, and had already begun reaching out to the local community to find partners to provide resources that could be sold for Equal Dollars.With the help of Mark Boorse, in July 2010, the CST staff began practicing bartering with community currency and goods and services that they thought they could offer. The practice bartering was very successful, bringing an energy and enthusiasm for trading that continued on after Mark finished facilitating. CST formed a partnership with RHD to use the Equal Dollars currency and looked for a way to try this barter market with other people to see how it would work. CST had some grant money that was allocated specifically for work with Circle Lodge, so in the fall of 2010 they invited Circle Lodge residents to be the first customers of the newly created market. This pilot process showed the new HopeMarket steering committee members what processes needed to be developed – including membership guidelines, inventory tracking, pricing guidelines, consignment sales procedures, and clear information presentation about Equal Dollars and the HopeMarket. Two residents from Circle Lodge began participating in the regular Saturday market days, and the market members began developing the market operations. Word of mouth also brought some people from the Coordinated Homeless Outreach Center (CHOC) and the Norristown State Hospital to the market.

Development of operations was halted when CST had to find a new location due to the physical breakdown of their Norristown State Hospital offices. The CST board proceeded with approval of the incorporation of HopeWorx on the basis of the results of the strategic planning committee’s work, while the HopeWorx staff moved to the new location in January of 2011. After several months, the HopeMarket was able to re-start their Saturday practice markets, and the HopeMarket volunteers began to develop the role of the HopeMarket point person, so that when they decided to open for two more days a week, there could be one person at each market who took the lead on welcoming visitors and making sure our newly developed procedures began to be implemented.

The HopeMarket Community Trading Post is now open three days a week, and has begun to reach out to other organizations within the Montgomery County mental health community to invite new members and develop new partnerships and opportunities for community members.