By: Katie Sobiech
Bringing Gods’ Healing to Hurting Hearts
Sitting next to Haven of Rest Ministries is the Marjorie Ruth Thomas Harvest Home, a facility for both women and children in crisis situations. Its doors opened in 1979 in order to meet the needs of the growing number of homeless women and children, and it continues to house up to fifty-two women at a time.
The doorbell rings at all hours of the day and night, bringing in women with an array of issues, including addictions to both street and prescription drugs, serious mental health issues, domestic violence, divorce, and/or loss of employment. Others come due to a major disaster such as a fire or flooding, or the fact that they moved to the area thinking that it would be better than where they lived before without having a plan.
Some women stay for just the night while others stay anywhere from 3-6 months. Those who stay more than one night are given a daily schedule. This includes waking up at 7 a.m., doing chores, having Bible study, attending classes, free time, eating meals, doing evening devotions, having children in bed by 9:00 p.m., and lights out for women by 11:00 p.m.
They are each given an individualized chart based on their specific needs and work with a social worker and a counselor once a week. They are offered nutrition, health and computer literacy classes, career development, and are given a chance to get their GED. Student nurses also come in to provide blood pressure screening and address medical questions that they might have.
Childcare, an after school program, and tutoring are all provided for the children, as well as a summer kids program and field trips.
One misconception about the women who stay at the home is that their bad choices or addictions left them homeless. The scary part is that is not always the case – sudden crisis can hit anyone’s life at anytime.
Yvette McMillan, Director at the Harvest Home shared one story about a middle age woman who had a stable, loving marriage. She and her husband both attended church regularly, he had a good job, and they were married for about 30 years – until he passed away. After the death of her husband she met a man at church who slowly led her away from the Lord. He was abusive and at one point she was held hostage and then stabbed. In order to get away from him she was sent to the Harvest Home. “It was here that she received spiritual nourishment and received healing,” McMillan said.
She is now slowly getting her life back together.
Many of the women who come for shelter suffer from depression, bipolar disorder and other mental illnesses, which affect their ability to raise their kids properly.
One example is of a mother who was severely mentally ill. She had a young son who she couldn’t provide for, and her behavior was very threatening. It got so bad that the police had to take the child. “It was very sad,” McMillan said tearing up, “We’ve had a number of rule sixes here.”
Rule six determines that the child must be taken away from the mother because he or she is in immediate danger.
Addiction and Abuse
About 50% of the women who come in are victims of abuse, and from what McMillan has seen, there is a direct correlation between abuse and the use of drugs. “They use drugs to suppress the memory, or to escape – to run away from what took place, and why they weren’t protected. But that has to be dealt with,” she said.
In one situation the mother’s addiction was so bad that she tied her toddler to his highchair while she went out to use drugs.
Women who come to the Harvest Home with a chemical dependency are referred to the Community Health Center where they receive group and individual therapy for their addiction.
When women who are leaving a domestic violence situation decide to stay at the Harvest Home, their husbands, or men that they are in a relationship with often seek after them. For this reason the photos of these men are taped on the inside of the doors so that the staff will not let them in. All the exterior doors at Harvest Home are kept locked.
Some of the men even call and leave threatening messages. Sometimes it gets so bad that they have to remove certain women and take them to the battered women’s shelter.
It is extremely important for the location of these shelters to remain secret. If a woman reveals the location of the battered woman’s shelter that she is staying at she must leave. Harvest Home cannot maintain the same level of secrecy because they are a homeless shelter and their address is published, however, they take all possible precautions to protect those they serve and their staff.
“We are trusting God to protect us here,” McMillan smiled, “to me, He works a miracle everyday.
Response to the Gospel
Eighty percent of women who go through the program say that they have been helped by it and chose this one rather than the other homeless shelters in the area because of its religious component. “They felt they needed to connect with God,” McMillan said.
Women of various religious beliefs have come, including Muslim, Mormon, and even atheists, but they do not turn them away. At the same time, “We don’t pressure them into receiving Christ,” McMillan said, “that’s not what we want.”
The fruits of this ministry have been very positive and they have seen lives changed.
“Once a woman receives Christ as her Lord and Savior she will make changes that will enable her and give her the stability that she needs so that the cycle of homelessness can be broken. It provides her with a support system so that she can address her issues,” McMillan explained.
One mother came to the program because her husband was addicted to crack. They were both professionals with well paying jobs, but the husbands’ addiction caused him to lose his job. They had two little boys that needed to be provided for, so she decided to go through the program.
It was there that she accepted Christ and began to address her own issues. Eventually she was able to secure employment, subsidized housing, and became a member of a local church. She invited her husband to visit the facility and he ended up going through the men’s program, drug rehab, accepted Christ, and then moved back in with his family and they are now stable.
This is just one success story of a family turned around.
McMillan is also a certified trainer in both the Poverty Framework, and Bridges out of Poverty, based on the work of Dr. Ruby Payne, which focus on generational poverty. She hopes to help break the cycle of poverty in these women’s lives by teaching them the hidden rules of economic class. “They need to know that different economic classes have different norms and values they operate by. Those coming from generational poverty may not be aware that the systems of our society operate by middle class norms,” she explained.
Because many of the ladies come from generational poverty (families poor for two generations or more), they have been raised in an environment of survival, which is crisis driven. McMillan wants to teach them a new way of living. “These women don’t focus on the future – they focus on now, and what will relieve the pressures of today, and they make decisions based on that,” she said.
Growing up in Poverty
Coming from an environment of poverty herself, McMillan wants to reach out to women and teach them things that it took her years to figure out herself.
“It is by the grace of God that He led me through and I am where I am today,” she said.
Both of her parents came from the south and her grandfather was a Pastor. There were four children in his family and they were very, very poor. They lived off of whatever part of the collection basket there was – usually just coins. The kids had to pick cotton just to get by. “My grandpa would go out into the field, look up to heaven and sing to God,” she said.
Sometimes when he came back to the house he would find that a line of people came in and left food.
“My sister and I didn’t know how to navigate the systems of society. We didn’t know the ins and outs, the do’s and don’ts within the work environment. God had to teach us instant by instant,” McMillan said.
Now she has a Masters Degree in Non Profit Organizations from Case Western Reserve University, a Bachelors Degree in Social Work from Akron University, and a diploma in Theology from Ashland Theological Seminary. “It took me 8 years to get a 2 year degree at the University of Akron, but God did it all!” she smiled.
Now she is working on fulfilling her vision of teaching people the things that she wished she had known.
“God has a vision and plan for them and wants to bring it to fruition,” she said, “I want them to know that God has a purpose for their life and it can be a reality for them.”