The Hope Box: saving babies by reaching out to moms in crisis

Portrait of Sara Koeppen who is the Founder and Executive Director of The Hope Box, a nonprofit that helps to stop abandonment of newborns by reaching out to moms in crisis. PHIL SKINNER FOR THE ATLANTA JOURNAL-CONSTITUTION.
Portrait of Sara Koeppen who is the Founder and Executive Director of The Hope Box, a nonprofit that helps to stop abandonment of newborns by reaching out to moms in crisis. PHIL SKINNER FOR THE ATLANTA JOURNAL-CONSTITUTION.

Credit: Phil Skinner

Credit: Phil Skinner

Acworth mom Sarah Koeppen runs a nonprofit to stop infant abandonment. That involves confronting many of the surrounding messy issues like sex trafficking, domestic violence, drug abuse, teenagers in crisis, and illegal immigration.

When Koeppen started The Hope Box in 2014, her idea was to provide boxes with baby supplies, so a mom in crisis would have a place to leave her newborn anonymously if she couldn’t provide care. Georgia law provides moms with this option for a short time after giving birth.

Little did Koeppen know then what other problems she would uncover.

“Sex trafficking, I couldn’t have even imagined that. I’m a mom of five kids; that blew my mind,” she said, “but when you’re facing somebody who is telling you, ‘I’m going to sell my baby. My parents tell me I can get a good price,’ you’re faced with the reality.

“My job, it does take courage. But I’m not willing to look the other way, even if it costs me everything.”

Koeppen and her small staff of seven and army of 300 volunteers have seen a lot of heartbreak, rescued many babies, and addressed abandonment issues. They also provide education and training to Save Haven providers statewide.

One of the group’s early successes was to help expand Georgia’s Save Haven law, giving moms more time and more options to give up a newborn safely. Hospitals, fire stations, and police stations are all safe havens for abandoned infants.

The Hope Box connects with moms in crisis through its hotline (770-765-6301) or by referrals. They provide counseling so moms can make wise decisions.

Many women don’t know what social services are available to help with care, and some don’t know they have the option of adoption, Koeppen said. If a mom wants to enact the Safe Haven law, someone from The Hope Box will go with her to ensure her rights are protected.

No money is exchanged. The Hope Box operates on private donations and grants.

“The goal is so a mother can wake up the next day and say, ‘I’ve made an educated decision that I can live with,’ instead of waking up with regret because she made a decision out of a crisis,” Koeppen said. “We want Safe Haven to be the very last resort, not the first choice.”

Joel Koeppen (from left), Breydan, Elijah, Avery and Hannah laugh at a story Sarah tells in their Dallas home. Sarah is the Founder and Executive Director of The Hope Box, a nonprofit that helps to stop abandonment of newborns by reaching out to moms in crisis. PHIL SKINNER FOR THE ATLANTA JOURNAL-CONSTITUTION.
Joel Koeppen (from left), Breydan, Elijah, Avery and Hannah laugh at a story Sarah tells in their Dallas home. Sarah is the Founder and Executive Director of The Hope Box, a nonprofit that helps to stop abandonment of newborns by reaching out to moms in crisis. PHIL SKINNER FOR THE ATLANTA JOURNAL-CONSTITUTION.

Credit: Phil Skinner

Credit: Phil Skinner

Dana Hardin, a retired school counselor, now director of training for the nonprofit, said Koeppen is “a force to be reckoned with; she has boundless energy, passion and vision. She is an incredible leader who energizes those around her.”

Director of Operations Emily Virkler said her passion for stopping child abandonment is ignited daily by Koeppen’s leadership in the issue.

“Sarah is committed to doing the right thing, no matter the cost. She is a bombshell of a human being, and I am honored to not only call her my boss but friend,” she said.

Koeppen likes to say the job found her; she didn’t find it.

About five years before The Hope Box, a mother left her little boy on the Koeppen’s doorsteps.

Elijah was three years old, and his mother had wanted to ask the Koeppen’s to adopt when she was first pregnant but changed her mind.

At the time, Sarah and Joel Koeppen lived in Colorado and were busy with their four small children and as family advocate volunteers for social services. They knew very little about guardianship, fostering, or raising children in crisis.

Sarah Koeppen committed to learning, and the family eventually took sole guardianship of Elijah, followed by full adoption.

Through her family’s experience, Koeppen was able to help others fighting for the rights of abandoned children. Her “Hope Box” dream was beginning to take shape in her heart, but life got busy.

The family moved to Georgia in 2012 so Joel Koeppen could attend Life University, and for two years, there was peace. “I call it my Jesus latte season,” Sarah Koeppen said. “But after two years, God just made it clear, he said, life isn’t going to be simple again for you.”

The Hope Box idea became a reality, and life became busy for the advocate of infants and mom to now five teenagers.

“Often, you start things, and people kind of get scared,” Koeppen said. “But I’m one of those fireballs. I’m a fixer; I’m going to fix it.”

This Inspire was recommended by Mark Scheller, who writes, they are “a very worthy group of folks doing much-needed work.”

Portrait of the Koeppen family (from left): Elijah (age 15), Hannah (18), Joel, Sarah, Breydan (16) and Avery, near their Dallas home. Sara Koeppen is the Founder & Executive Director of The Hope Box, a nonprofit that helps to stop abandonment of newborns by reaching out to moms in crisis. PHIL SKINNER FOR THE ATLANTA JOURNAL-CONSTITUTION.
Portrait of the Koeppen family (from left): Elijah (age 15), Hannah (18), Joel, Sarah, Breydan (16) and Avery, near their Dallas home. Sara Koeppen is the Founder & Executive Director of The Hope Box, a nonprofit that helps to stop abandonment of newborns by reaching out to moms in crisis. PHIL SKINNER FOR THE ATLANTA JOURNAL-CONSTITUTION.

Credit: Phil Skinner

Credit: Phil Skinner

What inspires Sarah Koeppen?

The next generation: “I’m very passionate about fighting for the next generation so they can thrive because they’re going to be my doctors, lawyers, my politicians. I’m a big advocate for the future of kids and advocating to see that they thrive.”

Adoption: “I want to remove the shame of an adoption. I tell moms: ‘You’re the hero. You did not harm your child. You did not put him in a dumpster. You sought the support you needed to make an educated decision, and that makes you the hero. There’s no shame in that.’”

Her family: I’m grateful for the support of my husband (Dr. Joel Koeppen). He’s so behind me and supportive of me and what we were in the middle of.

More information: www.thehopebox.org

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