For Women That Are Precious in God’s Eyes
By: Lorri Gifford
It has been such a lovely journey getting to explore all of the wonderful support that is offered by the ABCCM (Asheville Buncombe Community Christian Ministry). Over the past four or five months, each experience has touched me in ways that go beyond words. Through this adventure I continually marveled at the amazing work this organization is doing in Asheville. I also began to ask myself how much the career path I had chosen (reading tarot cards) was giving back to others. On the morning of my final tour, I was shown yet another phenomenal ABCCM facility—as well as the answer to my question.
I arrived at Steadfast House on a Tuesday morning, travel mug and notebook in hand, for an interview with Director Millie Hershenson. Steadfast House is located in a residential neighborhood near downtown Asheville and is a home for women veterans and other women who have been in abusive relationships, have substance abuse problems, mental health issues, or suicidal tendencies.
Steadfast house has capacity for 26 single women and 7 mothers with children. Of the 26 beds available for single women, 10 are for female veterans and are always kept free for veterans. Steadfast is not an emergency facility. It is a longer-term facility that helps to create permanent life changes. Veterans are welcome to stay for up to two years, and civilian women are welcome for up to one year.
Women that come are either unemployed and can’t pay their bills, homeless, or underemployed (employed, but not making enough money to pay their bills). The majority of female veterans come straight from the VA hospital. Civilian women that come to Steadfast House get referrals from HelpMate (a domestic violence shelter) or local emergency homeless shelters.
If a woman at Steadfast House is not working or going to school she must be part of the Day Program. Volunteer work is part of the requirement of this program. This could include anything from help around the house, to yard work, to work at an outside association. Caseworkers at Steadfast House check to see if she is eligible for the Work First program (administered by Buncombe County Social Services) which assists with training, work experience, and supportive casework to enable a woman to become self-sufficient and self-supporting. Work First also provides assistance with childcare.
Mothers that live at Steadfast House are required to attend mom’s meetings & parenting classes weekly. These women learn to establish trust with caseworkers, feel safe with other families, and build trust with other women in a community filled with God’s love.
Classes are offered at the House and all of the women are encouraged to pay their debts and start a savings account. They are each supported in working out a budget. Steadfast House utilizes On Track Financial Education and Counseling, whose educators come to the house each Monday. Each woman is required to meet with her case manager once each week and if she is in a substance-abuse program, she is expected to attend AA or NA meetings. The program also offers “Spiritual Mentors.” These mentors are women in the community that spend time with Steadfast residents.
If you find yourself with a free evening here or there, one of the biggest needs at Steadfast House is volunteers for evening childcare so that the women can take evening classes. Cook teams are also needed (groups of people willing to cook and serve meals, or precook and drop off meals).
“It is about rules and guidelines at Steadfast, but it’s more about the women’s lives.”
Millie Hershenson has been the director of Steadfast House since October 2010. She candidly admitted that when she first arrived there was a “heavy” feeling at Steadfast House and that the women seemed to have “a fear of doing something wrong.” As a result, Millie helped develop the “Heart” program. This program has changed the original vibe of Steadfast House from being all about the rules, to being about each woman’s strengths. The intent of Steadfast House is to help women find their “trigger points” or what causes relapses.
When I asked Millie what the biggest need at Steadfast House was, she laughed and said “I’m gonna dream big and say a three-door commercial refrigerator.”
Other items needed
at Steadfast House:
Paper products, plates, cups, napkins, toilet paper, paper towels, cleaning supplies, new twin fitted sheets, powdered washing detergent, and quart-size zip-lock bags.
to Steadfast House:
Millie’s journey started in 1993 when she got divorced, which pushed her into finding a job. As a single mom, she interviewed for the position of the Director of a shelter for battered women in Lenoir, NC, where she worked for two years. During that time she “met an amazing man” and remarried. In 1995 she accepted a position in Shelby, NC with The Cleveland County Abuse Prevention Council and was with them for ten years.
Her evolution began in 2005 when she went on the Walk to Emmaus.
The Walk to Emmaus is a spiritual renewal program. The intention of the program is to strengthen the local church through the development of Christian disciples and leaders. By examining the model of Christ’s service to others, the program encourages becoming “a servant of all.”
The Walk to Emmaus experience begins with a 72-hour weekend comprised of talks by both clergy and non-clergy on the themes of God’s grace, Christian disciplines, and what it means to be the church. The course is filled with prayer, meditation, worship, and daily Holy Communion. Men and women attend separate weekends.
Needless to say, when Millie came back from the weekend, she felt changed. At the time she felt that God was calling her to go back to school. She took a leap of faith and quit her job.
For three years she attended school, a very challenging time. Her mom passed away and she and her family lost their house. Everything she knew was being stripped away. Millie began questioning whether she made the right choice, and in 2006 she decided to go back to work. She found a job at the Waynesville First Methodist Church and worked there until it was downsized a couple of years later. After that she began working full time at the Community Kitchen in Canton, then came to ABCCM this past October.
Because of her education she can now be more “hands on” with women needing help. She learned the value of ministry and understands now why she went through everything she did to come back to the same field of work, to be “a servant for all.” Millie LOVES that Steadfast House is part of her life.
“I would not be able to work here if I had not gone back to school. I realized that true ministry is being right in the middle of the need. I share my faith. I pray with the ladies. I witness to them. They have value. They have worth. They are precious in God’s eyes.”
Little did I know that as Millie finished saying that, I was about to be shown that what I do has value and worth and was also precious in God’s eyes. As we were sitting there, I asked if there was a woman I could speak with that would be willing to share her success story for this article. Millie smiled, “I have the perfect person. Let me give her a call.”
As she was about to leave a voice message, there was a knock at the door and a woman came in. It turned out to be Angela—the woman Millie was calling. As I was introduced to her, Angela looked at me quizzically and asked “Have we met somewhere before?” At first we couldn’t figure it out. Then suddenly she said, “I know where it was! I got a reading from you a few weeks ago. I just want to thank you! That reading really helped me and showed me that I was on the right track.”
The time we had spent together created a gift for both of us. God showed up through Angela to tell me that the work I am doing is of value and for that I am grateful.
We would like to share Angela’s story, to show the intrinsic value of Steadfast House.
Angela was born to a mother who was an addict and a father who was a dealer. Her father was, in fact, in prison the day she arrived in this world. Angela remained in the custody of her mother until she was three. At that time her mom, while angry, threw a cast iron skillet at Angela and broke her arm. She was then put in the care of her grandparents and stayed with them on and off for five years.
When Angela was eight her mom got clean for the first time and remarried. Her new husband was an alcoholic and her mom started using again within a year. Angela was molested by her stepdad from the ages of nine to eleven. Around that time, her mom got to the point where she couldn’t “hit” herself with the needle, so she taught her daughter how to inject the heroin for her.
At 13 Angela got pregnant. She had an abortion and the same day started getting high and shooting heroin (a derivative of morphine). The next time her father got out of prison he made sure she was supplied with dope because he was a dealer. The reason: he could make sure she got “clean” dope .
At 15 Angela got pregnant again. This time she didn’t realize it until it was too late. She had the child and gave the child to her mom and stepdad, then moved in with her father. While living with him she learned how to sell, cook, and use.
In high school she met a guy that she briefly dated. He wasn’t a user but he died in an automobile accident soon after they were together. At 19 she got pregnant with her deceased boyfriend’s best friend. She got married, was put on methadone, and had her son. Two years later she became pregnant again, with a daughter, and continued to use on and off. The pain meds she was put on after her pregnancies would lead her back to drugs.
She left her children and husband and moved back in with her dad and sold, delivered, and did drugs. She started working at a strip club and did some prostitution. One of her clients broke her nose and dislocated her shoulder.
Her father once again went to prison and got out.
“I went from Texas to Maine and picked up dope with my daddy.”
Angela’s wake-up call came on January 7, 2008. She went on a drug run for her father. At the time, he wasn’t able to go, so he sent one of his main dealers with Angela. Together they took delivery of the package. Because Angela always got her supply out of her dad’s stash, she removed 14 baggies of heroin from this package and put it in the pocket of her coat. As they stopped at an intersection, gunmen attacked them. The shooters knew about the dope.
The dealer she was with was shot in the neck and died. Angela was shot in the side and in the arm. She passed out and woke up in the hospital.
The bullet hit her spleen and grazed her stomach. She had emergency surgery and was in the hospital for six months. During her stay she was put into an induced coma to help her through withdrawals. Without it, she would have thrashed around too much. Given the state of her injuries, that was the only option to insure her recovery in a timely manner.
The detectives investigating Angela’s accident found the 14 baggies of heroin in her pocket, so she was charged as she left the hospital. Now past the withdrawal symptoms, Angela did not go back to using. During the court case she briefly stayed with her ex-husband. She started going to NA (Narcotics Anonymous) meetings to help her court case. The heart-wrenching stories she heard at the meetings inspired her to keep going for reasons other than the court case.
She was charged with selling and distribution and was sentenced to two years in jail. Her first year was in a facility in Raleigh and her second in Swannanoa. When she first got to Swannanoa she wanted to leave and go back home (Raleigh area). One morning she woke up in the mountains and something shifted.
During her incarceration, her mom died from a drug-related incident.
While in jail she heard about Steadfast House. During the last six months of her sentence she was given a phone interview. One month before leaving Swannanoa she found out that she was accepted.
On February 10th, 2011, she went straight to Steadfast House. Angela quickly completed every class and passed every drug test. She says that Steadfast was the best thing that ever happened. Ironically, after she had been at Steadfast House for two weeks, her dad was arrested again. If Angela had returned to live with him after prison instead of entering Steadfast House, she would have ended up in the prison system again, as an accessory.
Angela has completed her program and moved out of Steadfast House, but continues to go in each day to help out as one of their Resident Assistants. She also attends four NA meetings per week.
“This has become a new life for me. My children feel safer now with me than they ever have. The people at Steadfast House are amazing and want to help heal you. If they can’t help you, they find someone that can. They loved me regardless of my past. I do not have to go through the struggles myself. Steadfast will help you no matter where you’ve been or who you are. Millie and all of the caseworkers helped me experience love and sisterhood for the first time in my life.”
At Steadfast House, women like Angela are taught to understand their story rather than passively endure it. All of the women are treated with dignity and respect. The rules that are incorporated there are meant to support the structure of a well-run home/household. It is a total re-education.
The women are taught to believe that they have value and worth and are precious in God’s eyes.
Imagine a world where we all believed that.
Lorri Gifford has been reading Tarot Cards since 1986. While living in California, she worked at The Chopra Center for Well-being as their Spa Director and a Lead Educator. In 2009 her intuition guided her to move to Asheville. Lorri enjoys writing, giving readings, coaching, and helping others develop and deepen their intuition. She can be reached at readingswithlorri.com or 828.505.4485.