15 months, 13 deaths. Changing a story’s ending.

Nestled in the heart of Stillwater, Minnesota, lies a two-story Victorian home that stands as a testament to the enduring power of compassion and community. Hope House of St. Croix Valley, born out of the deeply felt faith calling of its founders, Casey vanderBent and his wife Teresa, has served as a beacon of love and support for people living with HIV and AIDS for over three decades. This is their story — a story that not only celebrates the journey of Hope House but that also serves as a clarion call for continued support to ensure Hope House’s vital mission endures.

A Vision of Compassion

The origin of Hope House was in no way an accident; it was a purposeful response to an unmistakable need. In the late 1980s and early 1990s, the AIDS epidemic was at its peak, cloaked in fear, stigma, distrust and uncertainty. In those days, an HIV/AIDS diagnosis was viewed as a death sentence.

“Near that time, we heard about the first foster care for people living with AIDS in Minnesota, which was in Minneapolis, and we looked into that and prayed about it and decided that that was the thing to do,” Casey said.

So, moved by their faith and a profound sense of calling, the vanderBent’s envisioned and set out to create a sanctuary where the most vulnerable affected by this disease could find care, comfort and dignity. But it was so much more than that. It wasn’t just about creating a shelter; it was also about fostering a home filled with love and understanding for those often ostracized by society.

The Journey Begins

Sitting on the floor in his pastor’s living room in Bayport, Minnesota, Casey pitched the idea. His pastor and several others from his local church were onboard, but they quickly decided the project was far too big for one small church. That set the wheels in motion, ultimately bringing together a task force of local churches and community members in the Stillwater, Minnesota, area. In those early days, they faced their fair share of skepticism and, at times, outright hostility, sometimes including threats to their safety. Yet, they pressed forward, fueled by an unwavering belief in their mission.

“Teresa would often say there were days that we were pushing the bus up the hill and days we were chasing the bus down the hill,” Casey said.

It seems every time they began to feel defeated, they would find encouragement from someone in the community. “The good always outweighs the bad, and we knew that we were doing what we were supposed to do. We continued to get enough encouragement that there really wasn’t a question of quitting.”

That dedication and determination paid off when a generous donor provided a two-story Victorian home for a fraction of its value, laying the foundation for Hope House. The structure was picked up and physically relocated to its permanent lot in Stillwater where it underwent the necessary improvements to become a sanctuary. It was destined to become a place where individuals living with AIDS could experience not just the end of life but a new beginning, filled with moments of joy, community and family.

“December third of 1993 was the day our first resident arrived,” Casey said. “I still remember the day very clearly. This was a gentleman who was in the hospital and was transferred to us by ambulance because the expectation in those early days was that most of our residents would die in the home.”

Casey, his wife and their children lived in the home for about 15 months when it first opened, until his own health issues caused him to make a change. “We actually lived in the house with our two kids and all the residents and have wonderful memories of gatherings around a huge dining room table with families and residents and volunteers and staff,” Casey said. “But in that 15 months, we had 13 deaths in the house. Of course, that has changed with the onset of a lot of wonderful treatments. So, Hope House fairly quickly stopped being the place where people would spend their last days, but even in the context of those last days, Hope House was always a place where people came to live.”

A Legacy of Love

Over 30 years, Hope House has evolved, reflecting the ever-changing landscape of HIV/AIDS treatment and societal attitudes. It has transformed into a vibrant community where residents live more fully, thanks to medical advancements combined with compassionate, hope-filled care. The house’s mission has also expanded to accommodate those with other life-threatening health challenges, ensuring that Hope House’s doors remain open to all in need.

Its impact knows no walls. It has been an inspiration to all who have lived, worked, volunteered or supported the home over the years. Casey and Teresa’s children who lived in the house became advocates for justice and compassion, living the lessons they learned at a very young age. The residents and caregivers continually serve as ambassadors and advocates, spreading the message of unconditional love and acceptance.

Casey recently returned to serve on Board of Directors to shepherd in a brand-new era for Hope House as it looks to grow and expand in the years to come. You could say it’s come full-circle.

Join the Mission

Today, Hope House continues to stand valiantly among its blooming gardens and wisps of its signature weeping willow. Its story is a work in progress. With your help, we can make certain that many more chapters are written.

How You Can Help

• Donate: Every contribution, big or small, helps sustain the operations of Hope House and supports its residents.
• Volunteer: Lend your time and skills to make a direct impact on the lives of Hope House residents.
• Spread the Word: Share the story of Hope House with your networks to raise awareness and support for its mission.

Hope House is so much more than a care facility; it’s a community, and it’s a symbol of what can be achieved when compassion meets action. Join us in supporting Hope House where love, care, hope and community always grow.

Support Hope House Today!

Your generous gift will enable us to be the gateway to good health for so many who cannot afford it on their own.