Rita Caviness

A heart for empowering women

Nation of Neighbors recipient Rita Caviness

In Muskegon, Michigan, there’s a sanctuary called The Hope Project for girls and women who have endured the darkest trials. At the doorway stands Rita Caviness, a woman with a mission etched into her heart to empower women and bring hope to everyone who enters.

The Hope Project says they are, “Bringing light to those in darkness,” and for Rita, this mission isn’t just a career, it’s part of who she is. “My heart has always been to empower women,” said Rita.

Seven years ago, Rita found her home as Director of Client Services at The Hope Project, an organization founded in 2006 as a nonprofit, faith-based agency committed to ending the sexual exploitation and trafficking of women and girls.

Rooted in their core values of Love, Justice, Empowerment, Collaboration, Stewardship, and Prayer, The Hope Project focuses on rehabilitating survivors in Michigan. “We help victims turn into survivors and then, into thrivers,” said Rita.

When it comes to services, “We use a holistic, trauma-informed approach,” said Rita. The Hope Project offers aftercare services, a mentor program, a prevention task force, a hygiene pantry, a recovery group, life skills classes, and rehabilitation homes. “Survivors have a variety of needs, and we meet them right where they are,” she added.

The Hope Project receives referrals from schools, the child abuse council, churches, police, and DHS. Rita says they also collaborate with local organizations to fill the immediate needs of survivors from day one. “Sleep, food, shelter – we will help them find it all,” she said. The Hope Project strives to remain flexible to meet the diverse needs of the survivor population.

Rays of Hope is the healing home provided by The Hope Project. Here, survivors receive comprehensive aftercare services to address the physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual aspects of recovery. With every meal shared and every hand held, Rita and her team weave a tapestry of hope, one thread of love at a time. “Healing is the first priority,” said Rita. “Only then can survivors begin developing life skills, looking for employment, and eventually finding stable housing.”

In 2021, Rita received a Nation of Neighbors℠ empowerment award and grant to recognize her dedication to empowering women and girls. With the grant funds, The Hope Project purchased a vehicle to transport survivors in their housing program to counseling and medical appointments, work, and anywhere else they need to go.

At the beginning of 2024, The Hope Project opened a satellite office in Newaygo County, Michigan. “We saw a need in that area,” said Rita, “and God opened the door for us to fill it.”

By the end of 2024, The Hope Project will open Hope Village – a rehabilitation home serving younger females, ages 11-17. Residents will receive comprehensive aftercare services aimed at addressing the unique needs of young survivors. “We want them to live not just exist,” Rita said.

“My heart is open and full to meet the next person that comes to our door,” said Rita. “When people see me, I want them to see hope.” Rita stands as a beacon of hope illuminating the path toward a brighter tomorrow for women and girls across her community and beyond.