Throughout Johnson County, single mothers are raising their children without a home to call their own.
They’re living in their parents’ basement, crashing on friends’ couches, or staying with their grandparents. Many do not have the education or training to find a decent-paying job, and have no idea how to begin saving to get a home of their own.
A local nonprofit organization is working to lift those women up.
Haven Sanctuary for Women is opening a home in Greenwood for as many as three families, where women and their children can live for up to two years. They’ll receive job training, money management skills and support from the home. At the same time, they’ll provide their kids with a stable living environment.
“Over those two years, we want them to build up their skills to be a good parent and a good citizen. We want to get them back up on their feet, where they can make it,” said Adrienne Allen, board member for Haven Sanctuary
The nearly finished house consists of three suites, where families can have their individual privacy. Each suite has two bedrooms and a bathroom. A living room, kitchen and laundry room will provide common areas where the families can interact.
The house is decorated in chic grays, browns, yellows and robin-egg blue. A wooden deck, which needs to be repaired, extends into the backyard. Ample space exists for kids to play games or ride their bikes.
“We wanted to be able to provide them with a home that’s cute and nice; to come home to a place that is comfortable is important,” Allen said.
Haven Women’s Sanctuary was founded by Carol Naragon, a Center Grove resident and Allen’s mother.
The idea first came to her 20 years earlier, when she was volunteering with an organization called the Jeremiah Agency.
The group helped women deal with unplanned pregnancy.
Many of the women had been disowned by their families.
The work had a massive impact on Naragon, who started mentoring the women and bringing them into her own family. Allen remembers some of them babysitting her and her sister, or doing odd jobs around their Center Grove home.
“Her heart became connected to that cause,” Allen said. “It convinced her that she wanted to do more for these women.”
Naragon gathered her daughters and her friends, spending the first two years researching homelessness in Johnson County, as well as the logistics of starting a nonprofit group.
Their research found that a majority of the homeless women in Johnson County were single mothers.
Crunching numbers, they also found that with a job paying minimum wage, rent on an apartment would take up a huge amount of their income. It would leave next to nothing for child care, groceries or additional costs for their children’s activities.
“All of that combined makes it impossible for these single moms to feel like they can breathe. ‘What’s the the point of even trying to get out of the basement, or trying to get off my friend’s couch, when no matter what I do or how hard I work, it’s impossible for me to get ahead?’ They’re raising kids in that environment, and can’t do anything to improve it,” Allen said.
For the first five years of existence, Haven existed to provide resources for women such as counseling following divorce, books for a single mothers’ Bible study and groceries for a woman who couldn’t afford to feed
Erin Kelle was one of the women who approached Haven for help.
She explained that she was a single mom to two young boys. Kelle had trained in skin care with the hopes of opening her own business one day. She was employed at a hair salon, but didn’t have the flexibility she needed to care for her sons and save money.
Haven Women’s Sanctuary helped provide her with cheap storefront space, and funds to start her own spa.
Kelle now has opened a space on her own in Old Town Greenwood. She credits Haven as giving her the resources she needed to complete her own dream.
Despite the help they provided local women, Haven officials were frustrated that they had no shelter to offer women in need of a home, and raising money to build one was years off.
The group found a serendipitous partner in Greenwood Wesleyan Church. The church was looking for a way to help single mothers in the area, and in searching the Internet, found Haven Sanctuary for Women.
The two sides sensed an opportunity to help each other, and the church offered its former parsonage, located behind the church.
“It’s an opportunity for us to minister to the same group Haven wants to minister to,” said Jim Hughes, pastor at Greenwood Wesleyan Church. “We see it as a partnership. We had the facility, and they came along and put a lot of sweat and money into it. Now, it will be used for a good cause.”
Volunteers have spent the six months improving the house and adapting it to their needs. The walls essentially needed to be completely worked around.
People donated sinks, carpeting, backsplash tiles and other items to finish the house.
Dave Naragon, Carol’s husband, is a skilled handyman who has helped with drywall, bathroom plumbing and other improvements. Other helpers, including a group from Leadership Johnson County, have put in hours turning the house in to a home.
Two suites are finished, each with two bedrooms and a bathroom. The suites each have doors that lock to give the families space to have some privacy. A third suite is nearing completion.
The house is expected to be ready for families to move in this month. Already, they have three women going through the screening process to be accepted into the house, Allen said.
That process consists of an interview with Naragon, a thorough review by a staff social worker, and a vote by the entire Haven board.
Eligible women need to have had a job for at least 90 days before applying to the program.
“We want this to be a ‘hand-up,’ not a ‘hand-out.’ We want to give them the resources to improve their lives, but not just give everything to them,” Allen said.
Allen stresses that the house is not an emergency shelter, where women who find themselves suddenly on the streets can find a refuge.
But in their work over the years, they can direct women to emergency housing, she said.
The ultimate goal is to build an apartment complex specifically for single mothers. Half of every donation made to Haven Sanctuary for Women goes towards the complex. The other 50 percent goes into the Haven house and assistance.
The apartment complex would have 10 or 12 units where women and their children can live.
During that time, the women will learn how to budget and handle their finances. Counselors will be available to help guide them, and instructors will demonstrate how to cook healthy meals for their kids.
“The hope is that they become independent, and give back to the community. We were able to help them out, and they can help the community out,” Allen said.