Her mission: Deliver Help with Hope

After careers as a soldier and lawyer, Hilde Miller devotes herself to working with volunteers and the inspiration of Jesus Christ to aid the abused and needy

Hilde Miller and her daughter Marcella filled backpacks for children in need on Feb. 7. Photo by Sam Arendt
Ozaukee Press staff

As a child, Hilde Miller already knew what she wanted do in life.

“I always wanted to be in the military and always wanted to be a lawyer,” she said.

The Manitowoc native who now lives in Port Washington never dreamed of leading a nonprofit organization to help foster families and victims of abuse.

But Miller has checked all three of the aspirations off the list. Inspiration for the third came later in life when she was at her parents’ house confiding in her mother about a difficult day she had.

A Christmas list was on the table for a family in need, which was nothing new.   

Miller’s mother and her mother’s group of friends adopted a family with financial hardships each Christmas.

This list, however, struck Miller.

A mother with four children ages 4 to 15 had just fled to a domestic abuse shelter after her husband physically abused the family.

The 15-year-old “wanted” socks but “needed” razors. The 4-year-old wanted a doll but needed new pajamas and gloves. The mother only wanted to be safe with her children.

“I don’t often find myself crying while reading Christmas lists, but this list was an exception,” Miller said.

As tears streamed down her cheeks, Miller was embarrassed about the bad day she had.

“I knew God was impressing on my heart, ‘How’s your day look now? Count your blessings—you have many—now go help. You should start a group like this where you live. You can do this. I’ll help you.’”

Miller went to talk to the Rev. Martin Wildauer at St. Matthew Lutheran Church in Port Washington.

“I didn’t know exactly what I was proposing, but I had an idea. And I could pray,” she said.

A discussion on how to meet people’s needs and wants for the holidays expanded into meeting their spiritual needs.

“We desperately want a little one to get socks and pajamas and a doll. But what we want even more desperately is for them to know about Christ,” she said.

Through volunteers from St. Matthew and Our Savior Lutheran in Grafton, where Miller is a member, the Haven Project was born.

Wildauer said it fit well with the church’s mission.

“One of the core values of St. Matthew is genuine care to reflect the love of Jesus,” he said.

It started with Christmas gifts for families in need. Every gift comes with a verse from Scripture.

“We looked at this as a wonderful way to show what Christmas is all about,” Miller said.

But Miller’s career showed her the need goes beyond Christmastime.

After earning her law degree from Hamline University in Minnesota, Miller joined the U.S. Army and served with the 101st Airborne Division at Fort Campbell in Kentucky. She was a lawyer with the Judge Advocate General’s Corps (JAG)— yes, like the TV show, and no, the show isn’t all that accurate, she said.

Lawyers in the Army, she said, do general practice work, from prosecution to wills and trusts.

After a decade in the military, Miller did criminal defense and prosecution work, which opened her eyes to another aspect of law.

“Every time somebody was put in a jail, there were kids,” Miller said. “There’s a victim to every crime.”

Many of the children in foster systems, she said, have parents behind bars.

“Some leave (their homes) with little to nothing or a Walmart bag of stuff,” she said.

So Miller, a visibly passionate and driven bundle of energy who is married with two adolescent children of her own, expanded the Haven Project to partner with Bags of Hope, a nonprofit that helps foster children.

On Feb. 7, more than 10 volunteers helped fill 20 backpacks with age-appropriate items for children ages 2 to teens, including hygiene products, pajamas, gift cards, water bottles, coloring books, socks, underwear, journals, pens and snacks.

Everyone gets a secular book, such as “Strawberry Shortcake” or “Star Wars,” and a religious book.

The message Miller wants to send is, “Times are really tough right now but God loves you,” she said.

She recently started a Bless This Nest program through the Haven Project that provides personal items to women at shelters. Mothers will ask for diapers and other items for their children, which Haven will provide, and Miller wants to take it a step further.

“We want to get them a little something for themselves because they’re not going to spend money on themselves,” she said.

Devotions are included with everything given out.

“Understand you’re not alone. There’s somebody who loves you, not only just on earth but in heaven,” Miller said.

“Christ is my haven, my safe place, my security. I want through this organization to tell other people you can have this rest, this peace.”

Donations come in year round.

“You should see our basement,” Miller said with a laugh.

“It’s not just the people in our church. People I don’t know are contacting me.”

Miller works with Ozaukee County Child Protective Services — “They’re like angels on earth,” she said — to reach those in need.

“I don’t know a single person I’ve helped, but I do hope I’ve introduced them to Christ,” she said. “I’ll never meet them, but if I meet them in Heaven it’s worth it.”

She has even visited clients in prison. “The place is so devoid of hope,” she said. “Even when you’re in prison it would be better if you had the one you need, and that’s Christ.”

Miller never hides the fact that the Haven Project is a religious organization and “nobody’s ever turned me down” because of it.

The number of those in need in Ozaukee County surprised her.

“What I don’t want is those in need to become invisible.”

Once the need is known, the community responds, she said.

A school once contacted her at the last minute with three families in need. Miller adopted them without having sponsors lined up.

The Haven Project has about eight core volunteers. “It’s not about me. These are who make it happen,” Miller said as volunteers diligently filled backpacks two Sundays ago.

“I’m a servant. I’m a facilitator.”

Miller checks in with Child Protective Services every couple of months to see how she can help, and she wants to get more involved with schools and shelters.

“I’m always keeping my eyes open in working with these organizations,” she said.

The Haven Project is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization under the umbrella of St. Matthew. For more information, visit facebook.com/havenproject.org.




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Wisconsin’s largest paid circulation community weekly newspaper. Serving Port Washington, Saukville, Grafton, Fredonia, Belgium, as well as Ozaukee County government. Locally owned and printed in Port Washington, Wisconsin.

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