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Young Penn Hills-based church initiates '30 Days of Hope' project

| Wednesday, July 2, 2014, 9:00 p.m.

Harry Hoff knows the power that hope can bring to a troubled life.

The 36-year-old Penn Hills native is a former heroin addict who not long ago was serving a prison sentence after a 2007 arrest.

Hoff had undergone seminary training through Global University's Berean School of the Bible while serving time at the Graterford Penitentiary outside Philadelphia, and while he admitted at first, it just seemed like a way to pass the time, he began to see its potential.

“I looked around me and all I saw was pain,” Hoff said. “When I got out, my wife and I spent some time with a woman who was de-toxing (from drug use), and I really just felt God speak to me.”

The Hoffs “spent every penny we had” on sound equipment and Bibles, and now Hoff is the pastor for Hope Rising Community Church, which meets Sunday mornings at the Penn Hebron Garden Club on Jefferson Road.

“What it's become is that I really want to offer people a safe place to rebuild their lives,” Hoff said.

Services are held at 10 a.m., and Hoff said the congregation has 50 to 60 regular members.

Nina Helsel, 59, of Penn Hills is a member and knew Hoff when he was struggling.

“I knew there was a lot of good in him that needed to come out,” Helsel said. “But never in my wildest dreams did I think I'd be going to a church where he was pastoring. And now, you couldn't stop me from going.”

Christian Harris, 17, was brought to Hope Rising by a friend.

“They just naturally make you feel accepted and make you feel like you've been going there since you were 3 years old,” Harris said. “We're an outreach church. Anybody can come. Doesn't matter what you've done, who you are; you can come.”

Hoff is looking to bring that philosophy of caring to the community through the church's “30 Days of Hope” campaign, which will run throughout July.

“Impacting people one at a time is what we're about,” he said. “We have suggestions for the whole month, whether it's spending time with an elderly person, meeting with homeless people, giving a child heading down the wrong path a chance to feel included and loved.”

Hoff challenged his congregation to perform one act every day that gives someone else hope.

That idea held a lot of appeal for Kait Kallquist, 24, of Penn Hills,who is a Hope Rising member.

“I was looking for a church willing to ‘get dirty' and go places not all people are willing to go,” Kallquist said. “This is a church that is willing to utilize what they had and truly be the ‘hands and feet' of Christ, which is something that's very hard to find.”

Hoff said finding an opportunity to provide hope is not difficult.

“You don't have to look too far to find someone struggling,” he said. The pastor himself is a perfect example.

“I was arrested here (in Penn Hills); I had a bad rap in this area,” he said. “I'll never forget what one of the detectives said to me: ‘You don't have to live like this.' That hope pushed me, and let me know that there is a better tomorrow if I put in the work and want to change.”

Congregation members who participate in the “30 Days of Hope” project will have a stack of cards to hand out with the church's name and a simple message: “We just wanted to spread some hope and remind you that you are loved.”

Harris is excited to spread the message.

“Every single one of us will be involved in one way or another,” he said. “I can't wait.”

To learn more about Hope Rising Community Church, call 412-731-1524 or visit Hoperisingcc.com.

Patrick Varine is an editor for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7845 or pvarine@tribweb.com.

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