By Karen Roberts
“Have You Ever…” is a game I play with a class I teach. It begins innocently enough, with an easy question, and then it moves into more challenging ones. Let’s try it. Have you ever…gone sledding? Have you ever…had to sleep in your car? Have you ever…knowingly talked with a homeless person? Those who answered yes are ready for more. Have you ever…volunteered somewhere out of your comfort zone? Have you ever…donated material items or money to a food pantry? Have you ever…shared a meal with someone living in a shelter?
Yes is the less-common response to the second set of questions. People say they have thought about it or want to, but they just haven’t had the opportunity. Sometimes knowing where and how to connect is all that’s needed. I once was one who just thought about it and told myself I would someday. Until I heard about Dove Harbor.
How it began
Twenty-four years ago, two women heard God speak to them about a need in their community. Kerrin and Susan shared their dream with their home church, Madison Park Church of God (then North Anderson) in Anderson, Indiana. Soon Susan joined them, and the trio began meeting with church leadership and local social service professionals. Yes, it was possible! With the help of the church and many community members who shared the vision, Dove Harbor was established as a Christ-centered safe haven and temporary home where skilled professionals could counsel, pray with, and guide women into a better life.
That was 1993. As of this year, the Harbor has provided more than 360 women a way out of unhealthy cycles and way into healthier living.
Women of the Harbor
Women who call the Harbor home for a season are more diverse in background than you might imagine. They range in age from twenty to sixty or more. Race, nationality, and family circumstances are not barriers for entry. Here’s a look at the nine residents right now:
- Four are from minority populations
- Three are from countries outside of the U.S.
- Four are separated or divorced
- Five are escaping domestic violence or unsafe relationships
- Four have children living with them, ages two to fifteen
- Two are enrolled in bachelor’s degree programs
Religious belief is also not a barrier. “At the Harbor,” staff members say, “we hope women who don’t know Jesus will meet him here, and those who do will get to know him better.”
A new way to connect
To protect the women at the Harbor, resident identity is kept strictly confidential. Up until six years ago, volunteer interaction with the women and children was limited. But in 2010, Dove Harbor recognized a need. That need was for the women of the Harbor to build relationships with safe and loving women of the community who would meet with them regularly to encourage them, pray for them, and share their lives with them.
That year the Harbor’s mentoring program began. To date, more than twenty-five Harbor residents and fifteen community women have experienced the blessing of these relationships. When a resident agrees with her case manager that she is ready, she is matched with one of the trained mentors. She already knows them because once a month these women host an informal gathering at the Harbor and sometimes their homes for residents and graduates of the Harbor. Mentors become safe and loving friends who listen, encourage, and share their lives. As relationships blossom, mentors and mentees inspire and challenge each other. It is difficult to say who benefits more.
Meet the team
In September 2017, Tyrone Chandler joined the staff as administrative director. Like most of us, he knew little of the scope of the facility. “My initial thought was that it was just a transitional housing place. When I learned it provides counseling with Christian therapists, hosts group training experiences, offers food and material goods and resources donated by community businesses and individuals, and connects women with services of other agencies, I was shocked and had to know more,” he said.
“Now I see how the Harbor works hand-in-hand with other agencies, including United Way’s THRIVE network, to provide employment coaching, long-term affordable housing, childcare support, and more. Community agencies are like dots, and we help our residents connect those dots.”
Program director Cherilyn Horning, the only other full-time employee, has been on staff since 2003. “I’ve learned so much working here, but there’s always more to learn. The task of every full- and part-time staff member is to help the women meet their goals in a loving environment that promotes change and transformation.”
Robin Gerhart serves as office manager, and Annie Wood Bell and Judy Johnson are part-time therapists. Chelsae McDaniel is the case manager, and Kaitlin Eggleton is the income supports coach. Resident assistants live on the premises to provide after-hours support.
Executive director Doug Linville, missions pastor at Madison Park Church of God, gives oversight to the staff and overall operations of the Harbor. Doug is assisted by Ali Robinson, missions director.
For more information about Dove Harbor, including connecting opportunities, the October 12 dinner and auction at Madison Park, and support opportunities, visit www.doveharbor.org or find them on Facebook. A video tour of the facility is also expected to be available on October 12.
Have you ever?
One last question: “Have you ever…wondered how this ministry found its name?” The Scripture verse that inspired the founders twenty-five years ago is Genesis 8:9 (NLT): “But the dove could find no place to set its feet because there was water over all the surface of the earth.” Like the ark and the doves that came for shelter, the Harbor offers women who are not on solid ground an “ark of safety” to rest, heal from the past, and pursue a positive future.
Karen Roberts is a freelance writer and editor living in Anderson, Indiana. Learn more about the Church of God at www.JesusIsTheSubject.org.