Regina Darden wins WAVY’s 2020 Remarkable Women contest

Remarkable Women

NORFOLK, Va. (WAVY) – If faith really is the substance of things hoped for and the evidence of things not seen, it makes sense how the HOPE Foundation, Inc. came to be.

Empty rooms at the Lighthouse Community Church in East Ocean View may not look like much on a weekday afternoon in the middle of winter. From May until November, though, it’s filled with Regina’s guests.

The church has become Hampton Roads’ only summer shelter for the homeless population — where “HOPE” stands for Helping Others Pursue Excellence.

“When we first start, we have a big community day to let the community know they can come out and volunteer,” said Darden. “In our shelter, we turn no one away — nobody. How do we know who God is? God is dressed in anything. So we don’t turn anybody away at our shelter. If they get to that door, they can come in.”

And it was her volunteers like Diane Surida-Middleton who nominated Regina for being the remarkable woman she is.

“From the moment I met her, I just felt compelled to do something,” said Surida-Middleton. “The reality is she does take 70 percent of her paycheck as a longshoreman to make sure people are fed.”

WAVY’s Anita Blanton poses for a photo with Regina

That’s right — HOPE Foundation, Inc. receives no federal dollars to transform hundreds of lives each year. Regina says it would limit how much religion factored into her mission, and so far on this faith walk, everything she’s needed to grow the ministry has been provided.

“After we feed their body and get them to get comfortable and get that off their mind, then we feed their soul because you can’t tell anybody about Jesus if they’re hungry,” said Darden.

They’re finding their way there and they’re listening.

Regina even gives all of her guests a card with her contact information to keep on them in case of an emergency. For many homeless people not in contact with their family, she encourages them to reach out to her when they need a friend or support. And even more touching, when a few have died with no identification, emergency officials were able to contact Regina to give them the proper burial she says they deserve.

The lessons learned by one former shipyard worker — who fell on hard times and turned to the HOPE Foundation, Inc. — were able to help him turn his life back around.

“I was on the street myself and it was raining one night and a man said ‘You can’t stay under this bridge but there’s a place over there off of Virginia Beach Boulevard. Let’s go check it out,'” said Willie Johnson. “I came many a Monday, Wednesday or Friday night that the shelter was open during the summer and I came in crying and she said ‘Baby, just let it flow.'”

Regina just wanted to open up her own restaurant once she retired, but a series of accidents changed her course.

She used the money she had saved to buy mats, blankets, food and more to get started. And since she began this life-changing work four years ago, she’s had over 200 volunteers and partners join her, providing funds and resources to get people back on their feet.

She doesn’t call the people who come to the HOPE Foundation, Inc. for help “homeless” because it’s a circumstance. They’re guests until they get back on their feet, and many are now gainfully employed, housed and even getting their GEDs.

She didn’t know when she was making her plan to feed the masses in retirement just what was in store, but now it’s turned into something she couldn’t have imagined.

“God created it,” said Darden. “I’m just a servant working for Him. I said ‘OK, God, what is it you want me to do?’ and He said ‘I want you to start a shelter.’ For some volunteers to nominate me for Remarkable Woman — of all the people I know in Hampton Roads — that I’m in that category, to God be the glor, I say to that.”

If you’d like to volunteer with HOPE Foundation, Inc., you need help from them, or you just want to find out more about what they do click here.

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