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Home improvement

"Home improvement" Continued...

Issue: "Effective compassion," Sept. 2, 2006

Intern Kari Krestel, 24, lives in one of the houses and serves as the volunteer coordinator. Volunteers come from various church affiliations, stay for an average of 18 to 24 months, and must be committed Christians who believe in developing relationships with the women. But Krestel said the older residents are often the best mentors, because they understand what the women are going through. Krestel knew little about prison ministry when she signed up for Rachel's House, and she has found that she relies on the support of the women as much as they rely on her.

"It took living in a house with addicts to realize my own addictions," Krestel says.

Krestel recalls how, when she first met Hughes, the new resident opened her Bible and preached a sermon she needed to hear about trusting God. Later, Hughes initiated a prayer circle with the residents. In the other house, the women converted the attic into a prayer room, cozy but stuffy in the summer heat and stocked with Christian books and music.

Rachel's House staff consider the women's Christian faith their first priority. David Gay, director of Lower Lights Ministries, which oversees Rachel's House, said every success story has been the result of a woman getting serious about her relationship with Christ. The women learn the depth of God's love, he said, through their relationships with other people-staff, church members, volunteers, and others. Ruark sees faith as integral to recovery: The women should not merely seek to end their drug addictions or escape a life of crime, but must, as the third chapter of Colossians teaches, put off the old self and take on the new.

"The Lord has truly delivered me from those addictions," Hughes said. "I don't think the same. I don't like to do the same things." Rachel's House residents may stay as long as they need to, and while some stay in contact with their counselors after they leave, no formal system exists for keeping track of the women.

As a part of Lower Lights Ministries, Rachel's House staff and volunteers juggle their primary jobs with other activities at the church. One day Krestel rushed to three stores to find rubber balls for about 20 children gathered for a Narnia-themed day camp.

Lower Lights also does family counseling, feeds and clothes the homeless, and operates a Christian health center. By partnering with the Franklinton Development Association, Lower Lights plans to help the women find affordable housing. One plan is to purchase a red-brick apartment building next door so the women will be able to rent it. Part of the rent money would then go to a fund for future home ownership.

Rachel's House accepts no government funds that would require it to change the program. Last year, government funding comprised 3 percent of Lower Lights' $157,000 budget, and came from the Ohio Governor's Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives. The funds support a 14-month project demonstrating the effectiveness of small, faith-based organizations in transitioning ex-convicts into society.

As for Hughes, she remains focused on her goals: a GED, a better-paying job, and a chance to be a good mother to her children.

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