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.


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.

Share Our Vision: The Drop-In Center Laundry Room

No doubt you are wondering what could possibly be exciting about a laundry room. Some of us dread doing laundry so much that we postpone it for as long as we can. I’ve heard people say their only motivation for washing clothes is that all of their favorite outfits are in the clothes hamper.

laundryBut if you have ever done without the use of a washer and dryer for any length of time, you quickly realized the benefits of having clean clothes on demand. Cleanliness may not be next to godliness, but it makes a huge difference in the way we feel about ourselves, as well as how others view us. It is also important in creating a sustainable lifestyle, as most homeless people must rely on clothing donations, and they often have to discard clothing because they cannot find a way to wash it. Thankfully, one organization offers homeless people an opportunity to wash their clothes at a local laundromat periodically, and some of our women have been participating in their program and are grateful for it.

Then why, you might ask, is it important to offer a laundry room in our drop-in center? As a commercial venture, a laundromat is not designed to give our women at least three things that our laundry room will provide: dignity, community, and additional services.

First, when the women participate in the laundromat programs it is obvious to them that they are accepting charity because the sponsor provides the money to operate the washers and dryers. At the drop-in center, they will get free use of a washer and dryer with no exchange of money and no strings attached. But out of gratitude, many of the women have eagerly offered to serve as volunteers in the drop-in center. Allowing them to serve as they are willing and able gives them the dignity of being part of their own solution.

Second, one of the main purposes of the drop-in center is to provide our women a healthy sense of community in a home-like atmosphere, where they can eat a meal together around a table, chat with a volunteer, or just relax in privacy while they wait for a load of clothing to wash or dry.

Third, the drop-in center will offer the women access to additional services a laundromat cannot provide, such as health screenings and various types of counseling.

So that’s why we can get excited about a laundry room. It will be much more than the place where we offer our women the use of washers and dryers. It will be a room where we offer them the opportunity to take care of themselves. It will be a room where they gain a sense of accomplishment in a supportive atmosphere where their multiple and complex needs are addressed. It will be a room where they can reclaim what might otherwise have been discarded. It will be a room symbolic of dealing with the past to prepare for the future. Most important, it will be a taste of home.

Will you pray with us that the God who clothes his people in clean linen will provide a way for us to open a drop-in center with a well-equipped laundry room?

How can you help us make this vision a reality?


More than a Meal

The Lisieux CommunityThursday evenings are a special time for the women we serve on the streets of Memphis. Trisha Henderson, our Survivor Advocate, and Sandra Ferrell, our Executive Director, go to a place where the women gather, taking them a meal and whatever supplies are available each week. But they don’t just drop off these items and drive away. They stay and talk with the women, encourage them, and pray with them when the women request it. They bring the love of Christ to them.

Here are just two examples of how they are connecting with the women and building trust with them:

From Trisha:

When people are caught in the grips of addiction, it’s so hard to break free or even see themselves free. The person addicted not only suffers but the whole family suffers. Our sistas on the streets sometimes talk about their children to us. Some talk about how proud they are of their children’s accomplishments. Some have lost custody of their children and talk about how they miss them. They all shed tears when they talk about their children—some are happy tears, some are sad tears.

What we, Lisieux Community, want them to know is that when they get tired and want their life to change, there are people who are willing to help them, pray with them and walk alongside them every step of the way.

From Sandra:

Trisha had picked up things for the black women to use on their skin and hair, and we passed those out in small bags. One woman needed a pick, and all of them had been passed out before she got her bag. I hesitated before I reached in my purse to get mine out. I was concerned that she would be offended that it was used, and I didn’t have a place to wash it. When she saw that it was mine, she cried. She cried because I gave her something personal of mine.

The women want so little and give so much.

You may not realize that a great deal of preparation goes into every one of these visits. Trisha is doing a great job of gathering donations of needed items such as shoes, socks, hair care products, and bus passes. She is also making contact with various organizations that can provide assistance to our women and help reduce their vulnerabilities.

Trisha, Sandra, and the volunteers who assist them are living out the mission of the Lisieux Community to provide support and education for women who have survived trauma, addiction, prostitution, and life on the streets. And this is our mission because we believe every human being is worth the effort. As recipients of grace, we have no choice but to lavish it on others, especially those who need it most.

We continue in this much-needed ministry with the resources we currently have, but just think how much more we will be able to do when we open the drop-in center. Please continue to pray with us for our women, and pray that we will be able to serve them even better in the days ahead through the drop-in center. If you are already donating to our work, we are more grateful than we can say. If not, please consider becoming a monthly donor and move us closer to our goal of opening a drop-in center. You can have a part in providing help and healing to women who have lost hope. Is there any higher purpose than that?


Introducing Trisha, our new Survivor Advocate

The Lisieux Community is pleased to announce that Trisha Henderson has accepted the position of Survivor Advocate in our new program. Trisha, a Certified Peer Counselor, was one of the guest speakers at our Holiday Social in November 2018. She has worked at Lakeside Behavioral Health System for two years with people in recovery from substance abuse, and before that she worked for a year at BabyLove, a residential facility for pregnant women.

Trisha has served as a volunteer with Lisieux over the past three years, and for the past three months she has led our weekly visits to deliver food and supplies—as well as love and encouragement—to the women we serve on the streets. In her capacity as Survivor Advocate, she will be a key component in helping build a relationship of trust with the women, assessing their needs and helping communicate those needs to our donors. She will also train the volunteers who will interact with the women. Trisha is passionate about helping our women see their worth and learn their options, and we know they will greatly benefit by her ministry among them.

See Trisha in a recent story on WREG

Life Skills

To ensure that our residents learn to be self-sufficient before graduation, we help them to develop life skills, a broad term that includes any skill that enables a person to function well on a daily basis. One such skill is that of making informed choices about the use of available resources.

Although life skills can be taught in a classroom, some information can best be learned in a practical setting. For example, weekly grocery shopping trips provide an opportunity for learning how to work within a budget to select enough nutritious food for three meals a day until the next shopping trip. Success at this venture requires a good deal of planning and discipline, and if we’re honest, most of us do not achieve this goal every week, especially when prices fluctuate, familiar products are unavailable, or our household circumstances change.

Therefore, when two new residents were added to the house a few weeks ago, the regular shopping list was no longer sufficient. The available funds had increased, but so had the need, and the first grocery purchase after their arrival went over the targeted total. But after a few gentle reminders of how to shop on a budget, the women made conscientious selections during their next shopping trip and were delighted to find that their total was well under budget. Groceries were loaded into the car to the joyful sound of cheering.

This kind of victory is both the evidence of and the motivation for continued transformation. Learning life skills empowers our residents, and that makes us want to cheer right along with them.