Huntington House’s new director eyes plans for expansion as need for homeless shelters increase

New Huntington House Director Jennifer Gomez (left) accepts the keys to the house from retiring Director Rosella Stouder on Friday, July 24. A party to honor Stouder is planned for Thursday, Aug. 20, at Café of Hope.
New Huntington House Director Jennifer Gomez (left) accepts the keys to the house from retiring Director Rosella Stouder on Friday, July 24. A party to honor Stouder is planned for Thursday, Aug. 20, at Café of Hope. Photo by Rebecca Sandlin.

The mission to help the city’s homeless women will see a change in leadership, as the director of Huntington House, Rosella Stouder, officially retires this month and hands the job to its new director, Jennifer Gomez.

A retirement party will be held for Stouder on Thursday, Aug. 20, from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. at Café of Hope, 900 E. State St., Huntington. But until then she will be on vacation, with Gomez in charge.

Stouder says she will have served nearly five years with Huntington House, a ministry she is passionate about. She says it’s time to pass the mantle on to someone new, but she didn’t want to leave until the right person was brought on board.

“I didn’t have anyone that I felt comfortable stepping into my place until Jen said that she was interested,” Stouder says.

Huntington House has come a long way in the time she has been its director, Stouder says.

“It was a shelter when I came here,” she recounts. “It still is a shelter, but we have added a recovery program, so we’re able to serve a lot of ladies in both programs. I think that was the biggest achievement, with great staff to help with that.”

Stouder says her retirement days will be filled with working on lots of projects at home, plus helping out at her church.

“One of my sons has already filled a lot of my extra time with watching children – grandkids – so I’m looking forward to that,” she adds.

Gomez, a resident of Huntington, started working at Huntington House in December as an overnight staff worker. She was also working full time as a skills coach at the Bowen Center, but soon realized the homeless shelter was a calling as much as a job.

“I was just feeling pulled here,” she explains. “My heart was pulling me to be here. In March I turned in my notice at Bowen Center and came in as the case manager.”

Stouder, who also previously had worked as a skills coach at the Bowen Center, was familiar with Gomez and knew she would be the right fit for the ministry.

“With Jen stepping into this position I just immediately felt a sense of peace, that the programs that we do here are going to continue to go on and we’re going to be in good hands,” she says. “The girls are going to reap the benefits of what she’s going to be able to do with them.”

Gomez says she’s excited and anxious about taking over the directorship of Huntington House. She already has some goals she wants to accomplish, the biggest of which is finding an additional residence for homeless women.

“I believe Huntington needs another house,” she says. “So my first year is really going to be focused on documenting the statistics, because we do turn a lot of people away. We just don’t always have those numbers, so we can show we’re collecting those numbers and keeping them to be able, in a year, to present them to funding sources to show the need for a second house.”

There are currently six women living in Huntington House, with two more expected to arrive at any time, filling the house to near capacity.

Gomez also wants to update the current home, located on William Street, with handicap-accessible equipment or find a place that will be easier for disabled women to navigate.

“That’s one of the statistics I’m keeping, the number of people we have to turn away because of a physical limitation,” Gomez adds. “All of our bedrooms are upstairs and this is an older house that doesn’t have those facilities.”
When Stouder gets back from vacation, she says her last day will be a tough one, even though she will be celebrating at the retirement party.

“For me, leaving is going to be hard, because I’ve spent five years here and it’s bittersweet, because as much as I want to start a new chapter of my life, this has been such a huge piece of my life,” she says. “The ladies that come through here are just amazing people, and they have made such an impact on me. So to leave is hard. But as I said, knowing that they’re going to be here with somebody that is compassionate and has the same values and desires for them as I do is making it easier.”