As a new nonprofit, we were full of enthusiasm and short on funds, workers and board members. Over the course of 2014 and 2015, we sought financial and human resources to support our mission of offering a new way of life to women who have survived trauma, addiction and prostitution. At the end of that two-year period, we—the Community of St. Therese of Lisieux (CSTL)—completed our first year of hosting residents.
Some say we built the board by coincidence, but we knew that God was leading. When one of CSTL’s first board members sent out an email, her computer auto-corrected the address and Anne Hagler, a wonderful retired Presbyterian minister with a passion for women in the prison system, received the misdirected email. Our mission fit with hers, so she responded! Anne introduced us to three Presbyterian women who have a passion for helping women who are victims of trafficking. These three women—Bonnie Blair, Bonnie Algee and Dona Sparger—are active in the church, and helped us write an application for a Birthday Offering grant.
The grant helped us purchase a building for our residential program, offering stability and a home for survivors. We also installed central heat and air to provide a comfortable setting and reduce heating bills.
We are a two-year program. Each candidate signs a contract to stay for the entire program. If someone leaves early, we are saddened, even as we know they are better prepared to care for themselves. We also know that because of the changes in their lives, it is unlikely they will be satisfied on the streets, and they will find a way to move forward.
Nine women have restored relationships with their families and have gained the physical and emotional stability to do the work of recovery. Five women have graduated from intensive outpatient care (IOP) at a recovery center and three women have graduated from a personal and career development program. Two women are attending community college. Two women have obtained full-time employment and moved out on their own; one realized she wasn’t ready and came back to complete the program. All have established relationships with a counselor who helps them work through trauma. All continue to work on issues that stand in their way.
One resident said, “I would have been back on the streets a month after rehab if I hadn’t come here. It took me three months to learn to trust my house mates, but I have built friendships by living with the other residents here. It is a safe place.” She hadn’t known what she was missing.
At this time, all CSTL staff is volunteer. The staff includes an executive director, admissions director, spiritual director/outreach director, event producer and volunteer coordinator. Members of local Presbyterian churches have donated money and supplies, in addition to taking the women to appointments and meetings.
Thank you to Presbyterian Women in the PC(USA) who are a part of our work—those we know by name and those we don’t.