MEMPHIS, TN (WMC) - The Community of St. Therese of Lisieux sounds like a convent of cloistered nuns. Instead, it's a place for women who've lived what some would call "unholy" lives to start a new path toward wholeness. Thanks to this new non-denominational ministry, a grand total of nine women have found recovery in the community since August 2014.
Coordinator Sandra Ferrell said, "This is a home where women come when they want a different way of life after they've survived prostitution or addiction life on the streets. We don't fix anybody. We don't have the magic pill. What we do is provide a safe place and then connection with services that they need so that they can begin to heal."
Ferrell and some of the women she helps will share snapshots of their stories on Friday evening, October 16th at the Salvation Army's Kroc Center on East Parkway.
After the women speak and a 15 minute film called "A Path Appears," Memphis recording artist John Kilzer will take the stage for a benefit performance.
Ticket purchases will help the community cover its $5,000 in monthly expenses.
This is the community's first major fundraiser and young women like Rachel, now five month sober, will benefit from it. 24-year-old Rachel said she started drinking in middle school, smoking marijuana in high school and using cocaine shortly after graduating.
Rachel said it's impossible to hold a job while addicted to crack cocaine and ended up turning to prostitution to finance her habit. Now enrolled in community college, Rachel said the Lisieux Community offers her a chance to change.
Rachel said, "This place means I have a chance. I have a chance to rebuild my life skills, skills that I never learned in the beginning. Things that I was never taught. It gives me a chance to find out who I really am without drugs because I've never known that."
Elaine, a 62-year-old ex-prostitute and recovering alcoholic, said she learned of the Lisieux Community from an acquaintance while living in a women's shelter at the Salvation Army. "I've learned how to start over and rebuild," she said.
All the women have received intensive outpatient services at Serenity Recovery Center, a leading alcohol and drug treatment center in Memphis.
Gayle, a 23-year-old former sex worker now 8 months clean and sober, has spoken at several Mid-South churches where the Lisieux Community's clients have been invited to share their journey to new life. "It's helped me discover my voice and it's helped me discover my self-worth, "Gayle said.
Ferrell said the Memphis ministry is based on the pioneering work of the Rev. Becca Stevens of Nashville who founded the Magdalene project near Music City to help women like Rachel, Elaine and Gayle.
Ferrell said, "They were very generous to give us their handbook, their gr ant writing insights and everything because they want to see this movement spread across the United States."
In addition to the music, film and speeches, the Community of St. Therese of Lisieux will be selling products from Thistle Farms, a product line started in Nashville to support the work of the Magalene project and now will help the Lisieux Community in Midtown Memphis.
Rachel is sold on the new life the program offers. Rachel said, I've gone to see doctors here; I go to therapy, live in community and I'm learning to create social skills I've never had and rebuild relationships that I ruined."
The Lisieux Community offered the following list of accomplishments in its first year of service:
We at the Community of St. Therese of Lisieux are excited as we recently completed our first year hosting residents. The year has been full; following are some of the milestones.
- United Housing Inc provided the house for $1 a year for 2 years and sold to us at a reduced price
- The Presbyterian Women (PCUSA) have awarded a grant for Capital Funds earmarked for the remainder of house purchase price and additions/enhancements of the house and lot
- Idlewild Presbyterian Church provided a grant to pay utilities for a year
- World Day of Prayer provided a grant to assist with transportation for a year
- Christian Brothers University provided for the women at Christmas and has performed service work
- Several churches have donated cash and household items and done service work: Church of the Holy Communion, Balmoral Presbyterian Church, Collierville Presbyterian Church, Church Women United (an ecumenical group), First
- Presbyterian Church, Episcopal Church Women, Grace-St. Luke’s Episcopal Church, Parkway Gardens United Presbyterian Church, Buntyn Presbyterian Church, St. Ann’s Episcopal Church, St. John’s Episcopal Church, St. Mary’s Episcopal Cathedral.
- Memphis Herb Society provided funds and advice to plant a garden
- The Lisieux Community has been chosen to participate in a pilot program of Thistle Farms. Our women will be the face of Thistle Farms in Memphis and the roll out to other sister organizations across the nation will be based
- on lessons learned in this pilot. Their grant will provide salaries to our residents as they train in marketing and sales and proceeds from the sale of the product will benefit the Lisieux Community.
- We have helped 9 women gain physical/mental/emotional stability so they can focus on their recovery
- 5 women graduated from intensive outpatient care (IOP) at Serenity Recovery Center via a grant for women who have been exposed to HIV
- 3 women graduated from a Personal & Career Development program at HopeWorks
- 2 women are currently attending Southwest Community College, one will major in art and the other in social work
- 1 woman has obtained employment and is continuing to work on personal skills
- 2 women obtained full-time jobs and moved out on their own.