Tom Felger of Ossian knows what its like to be in trouble with the law.
When he was 17 years old, Felger placed a bomb inside a Norwell High School locker to celebrate the last day of his junior year. His little prank blew eight lockers off the wall.
Felger recalls sitting on the witness stand in a courtroom, pleading for mercy. His confession, along with his parents’ discipline, persuaded the judge not to send him to a juvenile correctional facility.
Two decades later, Felger sat on the same witness stand before the same judge. He was there on behalf of a 14-year-old boy who belonged to a mentoring program Felger had started. Felger believed the boy had potential and needed help with his environment.
That day Felger declared under oath that he would build a place in his community for young people to live who needed to get out of a destructive environment. “I knew this boy and others needed to experience a Christ-centered family environment like I grew up with,” says Felger. He is the son of Jim and Barb Felger and a 1987 Norwell High School graduate.
A few months earlier, Tom Felger had made that same declaration to help teens at the 2006 National House of Hope Conference.
During the conference, Felger, who has attended several local churches over the years, says God spoke to him. “He placed the vision of a residential program, farm setting and business related income on my heart,” he says.
With the support of his wife Patrice and several other local friends, Felger purchased a house on Main Street in Bluffton in June 2007. The group spent the next two years remodeling the building they called House of Hope house and turning the home’s garage into a training center.
They also spent much time in the house in prayer for its purpose to glorify God.
Although Felger relies primarily on donations to the House of Hope ministry, he has also received two grants of $50,000 each from the National House of Hope organization to renovate the house and to handle start up costs.
In February of 2008, Felger’s team began counseling young teens. Since then, they have worked with 100 families. “We make it known from the beginning that we are a Christian organization and kids are not assigned to us by the state,” says Felger. “It is a voluntary program. Parents call us because their family is in crisis and they need help.”
He adds that the only hope for recovery is if the family changes with the teen. “Our goal is to restore the hearts of the fathers to their children as it says in the book of Malachi in the Bible,” says Felger. “When parents attend parenting classes, we introduce them to Jesus Christ. From there we work on the issues.”
Clients for the non-residential counseling are mostly local students, although some have driven from Indianapolis, Illinois, and Ohio. “We are the only House of Hope in Indiana,” says Felger.
The House of Hope staff charges a small fee for the counseling to cover its costs, but if the family has no money to pay, they will help the family seek funding from other avenues.
In fall 2009 Felger recruited house parents and operations director for the Bluffton town location. Since then, two male residents have begun the residential program. The House of Hope plan is to accept boys from ages 12-17 and to keep them 8-18 months, the exact length of time to be determined by the staff. “We can handle six or possibly eight residents,” says Felger. House of Hope residents must participate in weekly Bible Studies and daily devotional times in the home. They also go to church with House of Hope staff members.
Recalling God’s message to construct a farm setting for the teens, Felger built an outdoor riding arena at his country home outside of Ossian. He had grown up around horses on his family’s farm. He also built a shop where students could work on automotive projects.
In October 2009 Felger was approached with an offer of use of a 40-acre farm located in the country just a few miles from Bluffton. The 3,000-square-foot farmhouse needed renovation, but there was a barn for livestock and land to plant crops like alfalfa and an area for a garden.
Felger accepted the offer and repairs on the house began in February 2010. Three teenage boys and house parents moved into the home in November 2010. “We had to re-gut the entire house,” said Felger. “It was a bigger job than we had envisioned. But with the help of dozens of volunteers, some who came from out of state, it is now in great shape.”
Felger’s goal is to see the farm become self-sustaining. “We’d like to generate enough income from selling produce and other items to offset the costs of living there,’ he says. “Relying on donations is tough.”
Tom and his wife Patrice have three young children. Tom also works full time with his family’s refrigeration business. “Patrice has a heart for teens too, which makes all of this possible,” he says.
With the town home now housing a few teen girls and with boys in the country house, Felger is cautiously optimistic. “We don’t want to put kids in the homes who have deep problems,” he says. “We will determine who lives in each place from our counseling sessions. We don’t want to grow too fast.”
Felger prays about each decision. “We are always on our faces before God, asking what we should do next,” says Felger. “We know that where God guides, He provides.”
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Reprinted with permission of Ossian Sun Riser