Love Lives Here

May 18 was an exciting day for me. My son was finally able to resume his physical therapy sessions that had been suspended for several weeks during the Safer at Home initiative. When he first started outpatient therapy in February, I had been able to sit in the waiting room until time to take him home, but because COVID 19 prevention measures are now required, I have to leave the building after completing any required paperwork. I was told that if I remained on the premises, I could spend the two hours that he is in therapy in the uncovered courtyard or in my car. Since I knew that most surrounding businesses were not open to the public, I opted to wait at home, where I have HVAC, 2 bathrooms, hot and cold running water, and a full refrigerator. The only negative is that I have to make an extra trip to the hospital in my air-conditioned car. Poor me, right?

While considering this minor inconvenience, I realized that our women—who already have more burdens than we could imagine—are now subject to these additional restrictions that make their daily lives even more difficult. Facilities that had once been open to them are now closed, and they have none of the comfortable options that I have. Their options for something as simple as washing their hands are greatly reduced, at a time when handwashing is being emphasized as the first line of defense against infectious diseases. It hardly seems possible, but our women are living with even less privacy than they had when we first began to meet with them on Summer Avenue. And as if all of this weren’t enough, the civil unrest that has erupted in the past week adds even more complications, with curfews and increased police presence.

But what can we do? It won’t help for us to sit in our well-equipped homes and hope our women will find a way to manage these additional difficulties. The assistance that Sandra is currently providing in the form of food and supplies is a start, but it by no means addresses our women’s complex set of physical, emotional, and spiritual needs. Having a drop-in center will provide so many more opportunities to assist the women in an organized manner with food, water, counseling, and community.  Even if we are unable to congregate for a few weeks, we will have a permanent location for the handwashing station that A Lee Dog Story has donated to us. We will also be able to store food and make it available more often. Our volunteers will have a safe space in which to work, and our women will have one place on this sad earth that they will know they are always welcome. It will be their north star, something to count on as they have been able to count on Sandra during these past few dreadful weeks.

Whether we have a physical location or not, we are a community, the Lisieux Community, and love lives here. When we are able to realize the vision of the drop-in center that we’ve described in previous blog entries, we will need to have a sign over the door that says exactly that. Love, with no strings attached. Love that wants only the best for each other. Love that turns strangers into friends and friends into family.

We are the Lisieux Community, and love lives here.

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Moving Forward: Survivor Advocates

by Sandra Ferrell, Executive Director

I am anxious for us to move to the next step of our journey as the Lisieux Community. Over the last several months, our Board Chair has blogged about the planned drop-in center. She told about the rooms in the house, why each is important. The thing we haven’t yet told you is about some new programs we will implement to help the women we serve.

We have planned the drop-in center in communication with the other programs in town because we only see one part of the problem. Each organization approaches the issues from a unique perspective. They see things we do not see.

One program we have planned is the Survivor Advocate program. We anticipate hiring several women part time to help with our expanded services, and we have recognized that these Survivors have a unique gift to bring to the program and that each survivor has a unique history to deal with. Each survivor is also in a different place so far as job skills and job history.

We want to honor all they bring to the table and to facilitate continued healing. So we will use part of their time to provide counseling, both group and one-on-one.

Okay, now I have a dilemma. There is a person who has had a part-time job for several months. She is in her own home. When she is present on Thursdays, the whole time goes smoothly. She is an advocate for the women because she has been able to move forward and she wants that to happen for the women still out there.

Because we cannot congregate for a long period of time as we once did, I stop and meet all who are nearby and then move back to the streets. She might stay in one place and encourage any latecomers to stay until I come back around. She has actually gone with me into the streets nearby to help me locate others.

Please keep this program in mind. If she had additional income, she would be more secure and be able to meet challenges in a better way. And she would be gratified to be able to help the women who are still un-housed or under-housed. That means a lot to her.

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Defining Success

We are often asked how we define success in our work. Donors especially want to know that they are making a difference for a non-profit’s clients, and potential donors use this information to decide which organizations to support and how much to give. We get that. The trouble is that the evidence of progress we have seen in our women’s lives over the past 14 months has been small and quiet, not the spectacular changes that would convince anyone we are making a difference. But those small, quiet changes are monumental when you reflect upon what they mean in the lives of our women. The best way we know to count success is by how many vulnerabilities we help our women address.

When we started taking food and supplies out on Thursday nights last year, we served 12 to 15 women weekly. They did not trust us enough to eat anything but sandwiches; after all, you can pull apart a sandwich to see exactly what is in it. You can’t do that with a casserole or a bowl of soup. But over time, as we consistently served the women good food and treated them with love and respect, they began to trust us more. Now they welcome home-cooked meals prepared with love by such faithful donors as Barbara Boucher, whose banana pudding would win first prize in anybody’s dessert contest. Now we serve about 25 women a hearty meal on Thursday evenings and give them a bag of snacks for the next day. We also made sure they all had coats, boots, scarves, and gloves this winter, as well as hand-warming packets. What would it mean to you for 25 of your family members to be fed and clothed who might otherwise be hungry and cold? What would it mean to you to have such vulnerabilities reduced in your own life?

Food and supplies make up only part of our ministry. We have taken five of our women to obtain an ID, without which they are unable to apply for a job, rent a room or apartment, or obtain food stamps and other types of assistance. We help them identify what resources are available to them, and we have worked with them to gain access to health care, including mental health screening. We’ve worked with some to complete job applications. As of this writing, five women who were homeless when we first met them now have housing, which reduces not only their vulnerability to the fickleness of Memphis weather but also their risk of being robbed or attacked. In addition, they are now able to enjoy the advantage of a restful night’s sleep, which in turn, reduces health problems. What price would you put on the increased comfort, health, and safety of five women?

Perhaps the best way to define our success, however, is to see the women that we’ve served reach out and begin to encourage others. One woman whose vulnerabilities have been greatly reduced in the past few weeks came out last Thursday to encourage the other women to trust us. She said she used to show up on Thursdays because she needed the food and supplies we provide. Now that she has a job and a roof over her head, she comes out because she wants to visit with us. She is now encouraging others to apply for a job. How much is it worth to see this kind of transformation?

Even if you considered only the fact that a woman who was living on the streets and now holds down a job has become a productive, tax-paying citizen, such victories would be counted as success. But to us, the benefit is so much greater than that. We cheer for every woman whose confidence has increased because we have shown her she is worthy to be loved and not exploited. We applaud every woman who has begun to unravel the effects of trauma in her life. We rejoice with every woman who has seen at least some of her dreams come true.

And most of all we continue to show our women the path to reducing their vulnerabilities. Our work doesn’t end until each of the women we serve is able to pursue the life she wants to live and not the life that her circumstances have forced her to live. For us, that is the ultimate success.

Thank You, Trisha!

Please join the Lisieux Community in wishing Trisha Henderson all the best as she leaves us at the end of this month to begin a new job. As our Survivor Advocate she has been a source of inspiration to our women for the past year, and we know they will miss her. But we have no doubt that she will serve well in her new capacity. We are grateful that this step means additional women will now be provided the tools they need to be free from a life of prostitution. It has long been our contention that the population of vulnerable women in Memphis is vastly underserved, and we are pleased that other ministries are standing beside us in that gap.

During this transition, we would like to assure all of you, especially our donors, that the Lisieux Community’s work with the women we serve on Summer Avenue will continue. We have a solid base of volunteers who go out with us on Thursday evenings to distribute food and offer encouragement, who serve in the Laundry Love outreach, and who assist us with getting women to appointments. We are also aggressively pursuing options for opening a drop-in center.

Please continue to pray for the Lisieux Community, and add the new ministry to which Trisha has been called to your prayers. 

Share Our Vision: The Drop-In Center Dining Room

Dining RoomWe bring you now to the final room in our virtual tour. As we open the door to the dining room, we ask you to recall that we started in the kitchen, which we called the most important room of the house; this is true because food is the most basic human need. Simply put, we die without sustenance. It is such a basic need that we started our ministry to a few women on the streets last fall by taking them food. Every Thursday evening, we now serve an evening meal and snacks-for-later to about 25 women in a parking lot.

So if we’re already feeding the women weekly, what difference will a dining room make? The surface answer is that even if food were the only focus of our work, we would greatly prefer to see our women eating their meals seated comfortably around a table indoors instead of huddled around a van in the heat, cold, and rain. Would you enjoy having to brave the elements just to have your hunger satisfied?

Although that would be enough of a reason to have a dining room, there is much more to it than that. In our very souls, we understand that a meal taken in community is not just about the food. From ancient times until now, breaking bread together has been a symbol unity, of conflict ended, of paradise restored. Sharing a meal with friends around a bountiful table is a way of feeding both the body and the spirit. Meals served at the Lisieux drop-in center will be eaten around a table blessed by love for each and all, where the benefit of the feast is not determined by the richness of the food but by the sweetness of the fellowship in which it is enjoyed.

Fostering community by building trust has been a major theme throughout our description of the drop-in center. Indeed, the concept of community has been an integral part of our organization since the beginning—so much so that we made it part of our name. We started this new ministry knowing that building trust with the women was the key to seeing them persist in the long difficult process of recovery. Therefore, we can find no better way to complete our description of the center than to quote the saint for whom our community is named. In one of her letters, St Therese of Lisieux said, “Trust and trust alone should lead us to love.”

Please pray with us that the God who is Love itself will provide us a facility where the women who are now on the streets can learn to live in ways that promote individual and corporate health in a community of real love.

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Share our Vision: The Drop-In Center Offices

OfficeThe rooms we have described thus far on our virtual tour can be found in any residence. But now we bring you to the rooms that distinguish the drop-in center from an ordinary home. These are offices in which women can access additional services beyond food and supplies. Memphis has many excellent non-profit organizations that meet various needs, and our strategy has always been to collaborate with those services to assist our women. For example, we have taken some of our women for health screenings with the Shelby County Health Department, and we recently worked with Baptist Women’s Health Services to provide mobile mammography services. We have helped some of the obtain identification because that is a basic need for obtaining housing and legitimate employment. Some of the women have asked for help with addiction, and we have assisted them with placement in a recovery program. Our program is already much more than meals and supplies delivered on Thursday nights.

Although we can continue to feed our women in a parking lot and connect them with local services as they request it, we will be able to coordinate these efforts more consistently with the center as our hub of operations. Visiting health care workers will provide some basic services onsite, with referrals to clinical services as needed.  We will also have a social worker to assess each woman’s situation and recommend the services she needs. Although our women have much in common, each one is an individual and should be treated as such. Most important, since our program is based on trauma-informed care principles, our staff and volunteers will all operate from those principles.

You see, we believe it would be irresponsible of us to meet only the immediate physical needs of our women without also offering them a way to process the underlying cause of their circumstances. We contend that women do not choose to be homeless and hungry, to neglect their health, to become addicted, to sell their bodies, unless that is the only choice they can see. The path to life on the streets almost always begins with trauma, and sadly, that life exposes our women to additional trauma. Unless they are given the opportunity to break that cycle, they will never find the road to healing. So we will provide onsite opportunities for those who are ready to leave the streets to access professional services that will assist them in that process.

Will you pray with us that the God whose Son came to heal the brokenhearted and bind up their wounds will provide a suitable place for our women to meet with trained professionals who can help them begin to process through the trauma in their past so that they may find hope and healing?

Share Our Vision: The Drop-In Center Living Room

Living RoomOver the past few weeks we’ve taken you through several rooms of our anticipated drop-in center, all of which have met some practical purpose to serve a very basic need (meals, showers, laundry). The Living Room is our next stop, and it will also meet a need and serve a purpose, though not one that everyone might see as practical at first. But we would contend that having a safe, private place where we can continue to build community among the women and volunteers is imminently practical to their spirits. A living room is intended to be a place to deepen our connections with family and friends. Secluded from the view of the hostile world and safe from the tyranny of bad weather, our women can take some time to relax and get to know each other better.

We do our best to build community when we visit with the women on Thursday nights, but if you’ve read any of our accounts of those visits, you know that there is a fair amount of chaos and absolutely no privacy. It is therefore difficult for them to let down their guard. Although—and perhaps because—they are eminently vulnerable, they try very hard to appear tough, which sometimes creates additional problems for them.

Granted, four walls, a sofa, and some chairs will not solve all of our women’s problems, but having such a home-like setting even for a few hours a week will give a welcome air of normality to their lives. As busy as we all are, the living room is still for most people a place of fellowship. Think of the times that you’ve gathered around a coffee table to play a game, watch a movie, or just talk about how your day went. Those shared moments of kinship give you strength and help prepare you to deal with the stresses of life.

You can see, then, how providing a place where our women can have those kinds of moments will help them develop healthy friendships built on solid foundations and mutual trust, with no strings attached. Such friendships will prepare the women for the hard work of meeting with counselors to face their trauma and begin to heal. When they are able to be vulnerable to those who will lovingly support them through the healing process, they will become less vulnerable to those whose only desire is to exploit them. That in itself makes the drop-in center living room a very practical place indeed.

Now we ask again: How can you help us make this vision a reality?

Will you pray with us that the God who created us in his image and said that it was not good for us to be alone, would provide a place where our women can develop true friendships that will support them in the long and difficult process of healing from trauma?

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