Profile: House of Hope's new executive director aims to help women reach 'full potential'

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Kelsey Rwayitare loved her job at Rockwell Collins.

She was a senior contract manager, negotiating multimillion-dollar contracts with corporations and the U.S. government, and although she said she loved the work, it wasn’t what she imagined she’d do after studying women’s issues in law school.

She’s “always had a heart” for helping people, she said, especially after reconnecting with her faith during her freshman year of undergrad at the University of Iowa.

During her sophomore year, she went to New Orleans to help those displaced by Hurricane Katrina. Then, after graduating from Iowa’s law school in 2013, she was selected as a Cmiel Human Rights Scholar and went to work in Rwanda as a legal consultant to Chief Justice Sam Rugege of the Supreme Court of the Republic of Rwanda.

So after a year and a half in her corporate gig, she said she “needed a reset button” to reconnect with who she was and what she wanted to do. She turned to House of Hope, a not-for-profit, faith-based organization that “encourages, equips and empowers women” through classes, programs, guest stays and therapy at its Second Avenue SE location in Cedar Rapids.

Rwayitare signed up for what the organization calls the “Ultimate Journey,” a 10 week, three-phase class that helps small groups of women and sometimes men work through whatever issues are troubling them. Groups meet once a week to deep dive into their personal and spiritual life, revealing any baggage from the past and working through it to “unleash their full potential,” Rwayitare explained.

“It’s really hard,” but rewarding, she said.

After completing her “ultimate journey” and realigning herself with her goals, 28-year-old Rwayitare said her prayers were “literally answered,” when the executive director position opened at House of Hope. Feeling “called to a higher purpose,” Rwayitare quit her job at Rockwell Collins and started as House of Hope’s executive director in early July.

And although she took a “significant pay cut” to do it, she said she’s much happier to “do what she’s most excited to do.”

“I love to set women free, to let them know how loved they are,” she said.

Around 200 to 300 women come to House of Hope each year seeking support during difficult life transitions, or perhaps to find a place of community, fellowship and friendship.

“Women have a lot on their plates. They can feel like they’re expected to do everything, and a lot of times they run themselves ragged,” Rwayitare said. “It’s important to make space and time for ‘self-care’ because when you care for yourself, you can love yourself better and feel fuller and happier.”

Although the organization is based in Christianity, all are welcome, she said — even if they don’t believe.

“You can be your authentic self at House of Hope,” board member Lynn Ciha added. “Wherever you are and whatever you’re willing to share, we’re willing to listen and walk alongside you in that journey.”

The facility first opened as transitional long-term housing for women in 2001. Today, Ciha said it has realigned their focus from long-term care to “giving women the tools to live healthier and better lives” on a more short-term basis. “Tools” include classes and retreats such as holy yoga, cooking outside the box, soul expedition, love and respect, understanding depression and ultimate journey — its most popular class, which has a waiting list.

House of Hope also offers guest stays for up to three months. Groups may rent the house for weekend retreats or one-night stays.

Although their services are primarily intended for women — young professionals, business owners, stay-at-home moms, single, married or otherwise — but men also may attend classes or therapy. Men, however, cannot stay overnight.

As executive director, Rwayitare will be responsible for managing the House’s small, part-time staff and myriad volunteers. She’ll also maintain the not-for-profit’s mission, day-to-day operations and will raise funds in an attempt to double the organization’s $225,000 budget — a “relatively small budget for all that we do,” Ciha said.

“We think House of Hope is the best-kept secret in Cedar Rapids,” House of Hope board member Brad Groothuis said.

But they hope to reach more women, ideally doubling the number they serve, he said.

“There’s a lot of people needing help and hurting close to home,” he said.

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