It’s been a little over two years now since The River Church Pastor Allen James in Montana, learned the facts about women in desperate need of a second chance.
At the time, James was searching a good way to make use of a former church building on Sleeping Child Road.
In a conversation with Ravalli County Sheriff’s Department’s chaplain Mark Hawes, he learned about the plight of women who had served their prison or jail sentences, but had nowhere to turn. And he heard about other women facing seemingly hopeless situations due to addiction, domestic abuse or human trafficking.
“I had never heard of this group, but within an hour and a half, we had them coming to Montana this summer.”
“I wasn’t sure what the needs in the community were,” James said. “He was the first call I made. … The information he gave me was jaw-dropping. I came away from the conversation truly broken.”
Hawes serves on the community’s Heart Ministries. For years, the ministry operated Shepherd’s House in Hamilton, which served women transitioning from a variety of crises that they had experienced in their lives. The home provided structure and guidance in a Christian environment to help women turn their lives around.
That women’s recovery home operated for four years. When the owners of the home decided to sell, Hawes said the ministry couldn’t afford to purchase it.
“We quietly closed and put the word out about the need for this in our community,” Hawes said. “Allen James and The River Church stepped up and said this was something they wanted to do.”
After hearing about the need, James said it was apparent that something needed to be done.
“When he gave me the statistics of women in jail and prison who were qualified for pre-release, but had nowhere to go, it was staggering,” James said. “And then he added more statistics on the battered women in our community and single women living below the poverty line. It was all pretty shocking.”
In the back of his mind, Allen had already considered the potential of turning the old church building into a shelter for women in need.
“It went from having this idea that this would be a great thing, and that God was pushing me in this direction, to being broken-hearted and knowing that we have to do something,” James said.
He brought the idea to church leadership two years ago. A few months later, they offered its potential to the congregation.
“My church — The River Church — was on board with this idea right from the beginning,” he said. “They said that if we can use this property to help women, we have got to do that.”
They decided to name the effort the P31 Ministries after Proverbs 31 that describes the qualities of a virtuous woman.
And, from there, the pieces began to fall into place.
U.S. Congressman Greg Gianforte’s family foundation agreed to provide a $30,000 grant to help pay for the remodeling and expansion of the building. The foundation has offered an additional $10,000 grant the church can use to help in its fundraising effort.
Gianforte will be the keynote speaker at a fundraiser on Saturday, July 6, at The River Church, 354 Cooper Lane in Hamilton. Doors will open at 5 p.m., with a dinner set for 6. Tickets are a $30 donation, with children under 12 costing $15.
Carla Fox has agreed to serve as the director of the new shelter that could house as many as 20 women someday.
This initial fundraiser is focused on coming up with the money needed to complete the remodeling project. In the future, Fox said the church will be reaching out to others who might want to serve as a partner in the project.
James has been amazed at the unexpected doors that have opened as both community members and others from far away have stepped forward to help make this dream come true.
For the last couple of weeks, 14 couples from the Alabama Campers on Mission organization have put in long days to build a 1,500-square-foot addition onto the building, complete a total remodel of the inside of the old church, and put new siding and paint on its exterior. While that construction work is ongoing, some of the group’s women are busy on sewing machines to create quilts that will be handed to the first women who walk through the door.
James said it was “borderline miraculous” the group ended up in Hamilton helping with this project. It started with a blanket email last year from the Montana State Baptist Convention that mentioned the Alabama Campers on Mission were looking for a project in Montana.
“I responded with an email that we had this project that wasn’t necessarily a church, but it something very much needed in our community,” James said.
In the next hour, he received calls from both a Baptist Convention representative and then from Ken Conaway of the Alabama Campers on Mission.
“I had never heard of this group, but within an hour and a half, we had them coming to Montana this summer,” James said. “It was mind-blowing. I couldn’t believe that it happened that fast.
Conaway of Wedowee, Alabama, said all of the volunteers are retired from careers as accountants, commercial pilots, cotton farming, and a variety of other positions. Not a single one was ever employed in the construction trades.
“This is what we do now and know from experience how to go about it,” Conaway said. “It’s very rewarding to help build places where the Word is going to be shared. It really does end up blessing us more than it blesses them. … It’s like Jesus said: ‘It’s more blessed to give than to receive.’”
Fox said there remains a lot that needs to be accomplished before the shelter can open. While the community support so far has been remarkable — from businesses offering steep discounts or donations for building materials to people stepping forward to offer help now and in the future — the fundraising efforts are just getting underway to develop long-term funding for the shelter.
At this point, the plan calls for developing a Christian-based program that will include three to four phases that will help women in need learn the skills they’ll need to succeed once they leave the facility in six months to a year.
“We are calling it a transformational shelter,” Fox said. “There will be a lot of different ways that the community can help make this a success.”
James said that seed that was planted a couple of years ago is growing.
“We have already received a lot of community support,” he said. “Businesses have given us incredible discounts and people are donating money. They are also telling us that once we get up and running they want to know what they can do to help.
“The heart cry of the community has been inspiring,” James said.
At this point there is no firm opening date set.
“My heart and desire is to have this up and running by the end of this year,” James said. “We need to ensure that we have our program designed and the right people hired. We’ll need a lot of partners who are willing to donate enough so we can ensure that we can pay those folks.
“We can’t afford to get this wrong,” he said. “From the very first day, we need to be able to meet the needs of every single woman who walks through our door. It’s a sobering responsibility.”
To follow the project progress, people can check in on Facebook at P31 Ministeries — Virtuous Women Rising or at the organization’s website at https://p31ministriesmt.org/
Source: Ravalli Republic