By Rachael Tolliver U.S. Army Cadet CommandDecember 19, 2013
FORT KNOX, Ky. (Dec. 19, 2013) -- Most teenage young men only have a few things on their minds: sports, cars and friends. But when people meet 16-year-olds Dustin and Austin Haubner, Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps cadets at Grant County High School in Dry Ridge, Ky., they quickly notice something unique about them.
The first thing people notice is they are twins. Both of them are athletes. Austin is a track and field athlete while Dustin plays football. Like their older brother they joined JROTC. However, the thing most people notice is that they don't get far into a conversation with the brothers before they start talking about Helping Out People Everywhere, or HOPE.
HOPE is a non-profit organization that the brothers and their mother, Kimberly, started in February 2012 to help the homeless and needy in the northern Kentucky and Cincinnati areas. The effort started as a way for the family to cope with the deployment of Kimberly's husband, who was a police officer contracted to teach law enforcement techniques, during Christmas 2003. They called the event "County Christmas."
"We had about 60 people show up at the middle school cafeteria where we held it," Kimberly explained. "We started out with people making cards for the troops; we served pizza and cake and Santa came by -- it was really all about the kids."
From there sprang HOPE.
Over the next nine years the organization grew to the point the Haubner's filed for, and received, non-profit status. After deciding on a name almost two years ago, HOPE now operates out of a storefront, paid for with donations and run by volunteers, where they collect items for anyone who needs assistance.
Dustin said that they have served 25,000 people and have served almost 900,000 pounds of food this year. As of today HOPE has close to 4,000 members on its group site at www.hopeky.org and Facebook page at www.facebook.com/HOPEKY.
Food, clothes and necessities are HOPE's yearly focus items. The food is donated from many companies and organizations across Kentucky, Ohio and Indiana. After HOPE receives a truck, the organization immediately supplies food banks at local churches.
"We call on about 29 churches and help fill their food banks whenever we get a shipment of food," Dustin explained. "Our shop is open Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, but we drive up (to Cincinnati) to serve food directly to the homeless (at their camps) every Tuesday."
Both twins are actively engaged in this family endeavor. Dustin runs HOPE on Wednesday nights and speaks to organizations with his mother. Both boys travel to homeless camps with their mother to pass out food, hygiene items and clothes. They package care boxes and make baby bags, inventory donated items, update client profiles, and Austin maintains the organization's computer system.
"When computers come in as donations I troubleshoot them, wipe the hard drive, do a systems restore, make sure it works well and fix it if it doesn't," Austin explained.
On this night he had just finished adding some RAM to a computer so it would function better before he added it to the inventory. His projects for later in the week included finishing the HOPE network set-up, completing a review of several new interface programs, and updating the client list -- most of which he can do remotely from his cell phone via a remote app.
"Austin wants to study engineering and robotic science," Kimberly explained. "He has always wanted to go to MIT and has taken every kind of class or studied every kind of program you could think of. I'll do everything I can to see to it he gets his chance at MIT -- and letting him develop this system is part of what he wants to do."
Kimberly believes this experience has taught her sons, "that we are all the same." She added that through HOPE her sons understand that life can alter things very quickly, and that in order to make positive changes, "you have to step up."
"We are no different than those living in the (homeless camps). It's okay to ask for help and it's not okay to judge people," she explained. "Dustin goes with me to speak at churches and other organizations and when I hear him speak I can tell it's coming from his heart."
These are all lessons that retired Command Sgt. Maj. Charles Duffee, the senior Army JROTC instructor at Grant County High School, said he tries to teach his JROTC cadets every day.
"It's important to teach young people discipline, and respect and dignity for themselves and for the people around them," Duffee said. "They also need to have an appreciation for community service and learn that they shouldn't judge someone based on religion, appearances, or where they are from."
But, Duffee said, while he has to work with some students to teach these lessons, the Haubner boys already have those lessons ingrained in them, "because of their parents and the values they've taught and lived."
HOPE has serviced people with needs ranging from an elderly woman who needed a regulator for an oxygen tank, to people in need of beds for their children. HOPE also places messages on its Facebook page, and people within the community respond and fill the need.
But when it comes to the homeless, Dustin and his mom make one-on-one visit to the camps once a week.
"They know we are going to come and have learned the timing," Dustin explained."We give them food, personal hygiene items, and anything they might have a need for that we can get."
The areas where HOPE visits are usually overgrown, wooded and are in the downtown vicinity. He added that there is a code in the camps and each occupant has a marked-out space.
"But we've also noticed an increase in the homeless in Grant and surrounding counties," Kimberly added. "We're seeing a number of farm camps -- people in the county who have fallen on hard times and end up homeless have been staying in tents on the backs of farms -- with permission usually. So we are adding them to our route and will take them food. I think a hot meal would be nice -- especially this time of year. "
However, Dustin said that they don't just go into someone's camp, just like they don't go into someone's home and that the homeless people they visit don't want pity and they don't like people feeling sorry for them.
"They are normal people," he explained. "For example, there is a couple who used to have a construction business. When the economy went bad, he lost his business, they lost their home and had to live in a camp that they built in one of these areas."
Kimberly went on to describe several more camps of homeless that include a professor who lost his job and gradually lost everything else, and another couple who came from Michigan for medical treatment at a hospital. But after several surgeries, they couldn't afford to get home, lost everything and are now living in a camp.
And that's how it happened that Dustin was in the area one day in October dropping off material and food at the homeless camps.
At one of the camps HOPE visited, located close to a railroad track, the occupants were not around, so Dustin left some items for them.
But he said as they were leaving the area his girlfriend looked down the tracks and pointed to the woman they were looking for. She was laying on the tracks.
"I broke my foot playing football and was in a cast, so I crutched over to her, and when I got there I was calling her name and she wasn't responding," he explained. "(When) she started to respond she didn't really know what was going on or what had happened. I think she slid coming down the embankment, tripped and hit her head when she fell -- it was cut pretty bad and she was bleeding pretty bad."
Because the camp is located close to a railroad track, it came as no surprise to hear a train coming -- the surprise was that it was coming at that moment, the women was barely conscious, and Dustin was in a foot cast and on crutches.
"So I dragged her up to the curb. My mom is (EMT trained) and there was another person with her and I yelled for them to get the first aid kit," Dustin recalled. "Mom's friend jumped across the tracks to get to me just as the train was getting there."
The woman refused an ambulance or a trip to the hospital, so Dustin's mother and her friend patched up the women, and he said they left her with bandages and showed her how to change the dressing and clean the wound.
"When we came back the next Tuesday, she was looking really good," he added.
"I'm proud of him," Kimberly said. "I know it took a lot of courage to do what he did. But he did it and didn't even hesitate."
Even though the holiday season is here, the Haubner's and the volunteers at HOPE will not take time off, and will not celebrate the season alone.
"We will do what we are doing now," Kimberly said of their holiday plans. "(The homeless) and people in need still have to eat and they still need clothing and hygiene -- they are family to us. What better gift to give?"
This year Grant County will celebrate the 10th anniversary of its County Christmas.
County Christmas started in 2003 as a way for Kimberly Haubner's family to get through Christmas with her husband deployed. The event hosted about 60 people at the middle school cafeteria.
"We started out with people making cards for the troops, we served pizza and cake and Santa came by -- it was really all about the kids," Haubner explained. "But about three years ago we changed it up some because (people) were asking for toys to give to the kids. So I started collecting toys all year long. Last year was our best year so far -- we provided Christmas gifts for 286 families from surrounding areas. It's still about the kids."
The event hosted more than 1,000 people in 2012, and this year they are expecting about 1,500. A new computer tracking system that Austin Haubner, a JROTC Cadet at Grant County High School, set up will track attendees.
They will also add a Santa Shop for kids where children can pick out something for their parents.
"We don't wrap the toys and things for the kids," she added. "The parents can walk through the tractor trailer we have that is full of things and pick the items out, and we have wrapping paper so they can wrap it too. It means more to them. We also have some trees they can take home to decorate."
This way there is no surprise for the parents and they can feel a part of Christmas. She said they came to the decision to not wrap presents after HOPE volunteers found a father on his back porch crying.
"He said that we had provided the food, and provided Christmas and he felt like a failure because he couldn't even provide Christmas for his family," she recounted. "These are families who have been hit hard over the last several years and don't have much left. We want to leave them with their dignity as well as hope, and some Christmas spirit."