Good things are happening in the neighborhood, as a small house formerly owned by Mercy Hospital Independence is undergoing a complete rehabilitation to eventually help its residents to do the same.
Around the hospital, the property was previously known as the “yellow house,” and it was used to store donated clothing for school children and community families in need. Since Mercy’s recent transfer of the house to nearby Crystalbrook Church, it has been appropriately renamed “Grace House,” and a transformation is in the works. A summer garage sale of the stored clothing raised enough money to repaint the house (blue), and volunteers from the church and the local Community Mission for Improved Housing organization are working to renovate the interior to make it livable again.
Once ready for occupancy, the house will serve as a second site for the church’s “Hannah’s House” ministry, which opened in 2011 in another neighborhood home donated by Mercy and serves as a residential recovery center for women in life crises.
Crystalbrook Pastor Dick Drumeller explained the women served at Hannah’s House – more than 30 to date and most of them young mothers - all have similar life experiences. The story usually involves a gripping drug addiction, abusive personal relationships, innocent children caught in the middle, desperation and homelessness.
“It’s a pretty common scenario,” he said. “When they come to us, the majority of our women have lost custody of their children, and they are pretty much homeless.”
Hannah’s House serves as a refuge and a second chance for these young women, if they are willing to accept God into their lives and commit themselves to turning over a new leaf, Pastor Dick explained. The evolving ministry houses homeless women and their children for extended periods of time at no cost to them, taking care of all their personal needs for food, clothing, health care, etc., and offering them first and foremost the opportunity for healing. Along the way, their spiritual development is nurtured, and they are equipped with the necessary life skills to eventually live independently and serve as evangelists to other women in their shoes.
“It’s really a miracle that we are able to take care of these women all through monetary donations to the ministry,” Pastor Dick said. “We know if we take care of them, God will take care of us.
“We’re not a shelter, though. It’s a spiritual commitment on the part of these girls. In the process, we’re changing lives.”
A Hannah’s House resident for the past 10 months, Candace Hawkins’ story was a familiar one to Pastor Dick. Like several before her and a few more since, Candace was self-destructing. At age 31, she had already been a meth addict for 16 years. Her longtime boyfriend was selling drugs, and together they were caught up in a volatile cycle they couldn’t break.
Candace’s rock-bottom came one January day when she woke up in a hospital bed after being badly beaten by her boyfriend. She doesn’t even know how she got there, and she doesn’t really want to know. It was a pivotal moment for Candace. She couldn’t go back to her violent boyfriend.
Area law enforcement officials involved in the case were sympathetic to her dilemma, but the circumstances required they remove her 8-year-old daughter, Sydnee, from her custody. Sydnee went to live with Candace’s mother, and Candace herself had no place to go.
Candace’s salvation came when a board member from Crystalbrook learned of her situation and contacted Pastor Dick.
“I still remember that phone call,” he said.
Candace had spent the night before in a public restroom. That night, she had a warm bed – and a chance at a new life - at Hannah’s House.
“I tried to get out (of my former life),” Candace said. “I went to rehab three times. I couldn’t do it under my own power. Sixteen years (of addiction) is a long time.”
Pastor Dick explained the program requires residents to participate in intensive religious education, including Bible study and regular church attendance. Outside distractions – phone calls, visits, outings, etc., - are limited, and residents must share household chores and responsibilities. In later phases of the program, the women receive education on necessary life skills, including budgeting, and eventually they are prepared for employment and able to pay “rent” which goes into an individual account to help them establish their own home in the future.
“This is really the second phase of the program,” Pastor Dick explained. “In the first phase, we don’t want them to work. Their job is to get better, recover, and learn about God. I tell them they will be married to God in the first six months.
“When they do find jobs, they are able to save some money for their own futures and learn responsibility.”
A new component of the ministry, he explained, is a 36-week “Apprentice” discipleship program that prepares Hannah’s House residents to share their stories with others.
“The girls are starting to minister for us, without hesitation,” he said, noting they are even provided with business cards to share in the community. “No one can minister like someone who’s been there.”
Taking an out-front leadership role in sharing the ministry is Candace, a living testimony to the effectiveness of the Hannah’s House program. After arriving in January, she has never looked back. She has been reunited with daughter Sydnee, she has found God, and she has a message of hope for anyone who will listen.
“It took God and Hannah’s House (to save me),” Candace said. “Without people rallying behind me, I don’t think I could have done it.
“Now I want to try to reach out to people. That’s where my heart is.”
And while Candace and her fellow residents at Hannah’s House may share similar pasts, she is thankful they have bonded over brighter futures.
“Our strength is we become family,” she said. “They’re my sisters.
“I don’t think any girl can leave here and say honestly that she didn’t have a wonderful experience. It’s amazing.”
The experience, the ministry has come about thanks to the convergence of community generosity - like donated property and tireless volunteer manhours - and divine intervention, Pastor Dick says.
"It's a miracle, it really is, the way the community has come together to help us make this happen. God is raising up some awesome people to help us."