For those in need, Ypsi's Hope Clinic lives up to its name

Ask any Hope Clinic client or staffer about what makes the Ypsilanti nonprofit special, and chances are they'll mention the love, compassion, and kindness shown to anyone who walks through its doors.


"The thing about love is love comes in all shapes, sizes, and colors," says the clinic's chaplain, William Simmons. "Even if you don’t know me or understand me, I can’t speak your language, but I know the language of love. People can sense the compassion."


Simmons serves the clients, patients, staff, and volunteers at Hope Clinic by praying for and with them. He also does any kind of service work that's needed around the facility, like giving clients rides home, making them coffee, or buying them hot meals.


"Hope Clinic has been a light on this side of town. It shows so much love to everybody, no matter what their background is, or religion, or what [have you]," says longtime Ypsi resident Robert Reed, who utilizes the clinic's food programs.


Hope Clinic, located at 518 Harriet St., was founded more than 30 years ago by Dr. Dan Heffernan as a medical clinic for the uninsured. It has since evolved into a one-stop shop for basic needs, offering free medical and dental services, food programs, social work services, and much more. The clinic's services are open to anyone, regardless of residential status or income.


In 2016 the medical clinic served more than 2,500 patients, the dental clinic served nearly 4,500 patients, the food programs fulfilled over 8,000 requests, and the social work team saw almost 750 clients, according to Hope Clinic's latest annual report. A satellite medical clinic in Westland, which opened in 2007 due to the need for services in western Wayne County, served more than 700 patients last year.


Merely providing service isn't Hope Clinic's only focus. There’s a major emphasis on human interactions between the clinic's staff and its clients. Volunteers are an integral part of the clinic's success, with more than 100 medical and dental professionals providing care each month and more than 250 community members helping with other duties. Some of the volunteers once used the clinic's services themselves and wanted to give back after they were able to get on their feet.


Hope Clinic also relies on donations and partnerships with local hospitals, churches, businesses, and other agencies. The facility's community partnerships show support by providing food, clothing, baby products, services, volunteers, financial contributions, and more.


Medical and dental services


Hope Clinic's staff includes several part-time or full-time medical and dental professionals, but most of the doctors and nurses help patients on a volunteer basis. The facility has an in-house pharmacy that offers free non-narcotic prescriptions for patients, which are donated to Hope Clinic.


The medical clinic serves uninsured and underinsured patients of any age who are in need of basic general practitioner work. Since the dental clinic prioritizes patients who are uninsured and unable to pay for dental care, it enforces eligibility requirements based on family size and income. Both clinics refer patients to other facilities for more advanced tests and procedures.


Ypsi residents Marilyn and Christian Roux have been coming to Hope Clinic for about 20 years. The couple say the facility has helped multiple members of their family, particularly in two dire situations, so now they try to give back in any way they can.


When the Rouxs' daughter was a teenager they brought her to the dental clinic, where staff noticed a fast-growing, fibrous lump on her jawbone and then referred her the University of Michigan School of Dentistry the following day. The lump ended up being a non-malignant tumor, but the dentists were worried it could've been cancer. Now the Rouxs' daughter brings her children to Hope Clinic.


After Marilyn Roux's mother, a double amputee below the knees, lost her Medicaid, she no longer had access to almost two dozen medications. But Hope Clinic was able to scrounge up all of the medications that she needed.


"Hope has just always been there for us," Marilyn Roux says. "My mother said, 'If there's anything left when I'm gone, you give it to Hope.'"


Basic needs and food programs

Hope Clinic offers prepackaged bags of groceries to clients who don’t have any food and need an emergency supply right away. Clients who don't have an immediate need for food may set up appointments to collect food during weekly distributions at the clinic's food pantry or its freestanding farm stand, which offers fresh produce provided by Food Gatherers and local farmers and gardeners. Walk-in meals are also offered on weekend afternoons.


The clinic's basic needs manager, Mary Dekker, says Hope Clinic’s food programs can be supplemental for clients who utilize food stamps or clients who are experiencing a financial crisis. Those clients can then save money they would normally spend on food and instead use it to pay for other necessities, like car repairs, prescriptions, or schooling. She says the clinic tries to “help people stretch their other resources further.”


The farm stand typically serves between 40 and 50 people each day that it's open. Many clients come back every week to hand-pick fruits and vegetables.


"[The farm stand] is great because it gives me fresh fruits and vegetables. But you’ve got to get here early because if you get here late you don’t get anything, like I missed out on the strawberries," Ypsi resident Daryl South said with a laugh as he browsed the farm stand on a recent Monday.


Volunteers try to keep a close count of the food items so nothing is left over at the end of the distribution. But when there's extra, they figure out ways to ensure the perishable items don't go to waste. For example, Milan resident Elvin Pemberton has been coming to the farm stand at least once a week for about two years to pick up whatever is left over at the end of the produce distribution so he and his wife can deliver it to their low-income friends and neighbors. Pemberton says he does this to "continue the ministry."


The clinic's basic needs services go beyond just food. Hope Clinic offers items for infants, like diapers, formula, and baby food, to clients once every two weeks on a walk-in basis. The facility also offers self-service laundry to clients once a week on an appointment basis.


Social work services


Hope Clinic's social work services focus on case management in an effort to connect clients with in-house or outside resources that can provide them with emergency or basic needs, like personal care items, clothing, and housing, according to social work manager Denese Brown. The clinic can supply clients with bus tokens or gas vouchers if they need help getting to another facility. Hope Clinic's social workers help clients apply for health insurance or Medicaid, food stamps, and legal identification.

Hope Clinic’s social workers don’t provide mental health services, but they do crisis counseling to de-escalate situations for clients who are distraught. Hegira Programs, Inc. has a couple of employees stationed at Hope Clinic to assist with screenings for substance abuse, anxiety, and depression. Clients who are in need of other mental health services are referred to POWER, Inc.


"We try to help them and we try to do it with care and kindness. In other words, we don’t want them to feel stigmatized or looked down upon because they have a need," Brown says. "We don’t care who it is. We try to serve people with dignity. That’s important."


Ypsi resident Harvey Jackson, who has suffered three separate traumatic brain injuries, started coming to Hope Clinic almost four years ago. He initially came to the dental clinic because his teeth were falling out due to severe dry mouth, a side effect of medication for his brain injuries. The dental clinic pulled his bad teeth and referred him to an outside dental office to replace them. He says the dental work allowed him to regain some of the self-esteem that faded when he lost his teeth.


"I have my teeth now and I can smile," Jackson says. "When you can smile again and talk and not worry about what people think, that's life-changing."


Jackson says Hope Clinic helped to restore him not just physically, but also mentally. He credits the facility's social work services with helping to restore some of his self-confidence to a point where he now does motivational speaking in an effort to give back to others.


"Everybody knows a little bit about you and wants to be able to help you, and that means so much," Jackson says. "They're not there for the buck, they're there for the person or for the situation. It's not like you have one therapist and that's it. You're brought into a family."

Brianna Kelly is the project manager for On the Ground Ypsi and an Ypsilanti resident. She has worked for The Associated Press and has freelanced for The Detroit News and Crain's Detroit Business.

All photos by Doug Coombe.