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story.lead_photo.caption Magdalene Board: Pictured are members of the Magdalene House Board standing from left: Regina Pierce; Regina Lambert; Benita Burton; Beth Callaway and Don Williams. Seated from left: Connie Tarver, vice president; Becky Choate, president; Reneé Skinner and Alison Burroff.

A new organization has formed in El Dorado with a mission to help women survivors of sexual exploitation, violence and addiction - the Magdalene House El Dorado.

While the group has yet to gain its 501(c)3 nonprofit status, it is starting through St. Mary’s Episcopal Church, where Magdalene House El Dorado board president Becky Choate works.

Choate said the idea originated with Magdalene House Nashville, founded by Becca Stevens in 1996. Choate said she had looked into the organization, along with other members of the St. Mary’s congregation, including Connie Tarver, who is now vice president of the new board.

Then last June, Choate said, a group went to a conference for the Magdalene House organization and “came home on fire” to start something similar for the local area.

“We’re trying, out of love, to help women get a second chance,” she said. “It’s a movement of love.”

The goal is to procure a home, which the group has yet to do, and fill it with all needed furnishings, clothing, etc., where several women can be housed. Those who make it through the interview process to establish if they have the “right heart and

willingness,” Choate said, will be set up in the house and provided with everything from medical, dental and mental health services to every day necessities, along with “lots of love and support.”

Choate emphasized that women who take part in the process must be clean when they arrive at the Magdalene House.

“They have to make a commitment to us,” Choate said, noting that she hopes to serve about six to eight women once the organization gets off the ground.

Because of that, she said, it’s likely that many of the women they serve will come from the prison system, having been forced to get clean.

The women will be able to stay in the home throughout the two-year program, which also will entail taking part in a business enterprise, which Choate said is still being worked out.

In Nashville, the business enterprise is known as Thistle Farms, whose products are sold at stores such as Whole Foods.

The organization will assist women in finding work, returning to school or entering the Thistle Farms operation, as well as offering a matched savings program to help them prepare to be economically independent when they leave the house.

The ultimate goal is to keep women from having to go back to prostitution or other exploitation in order to support themselves, Choate said.

Since coming home with the passion and drive to start the organization locally, Choate and Tarver said they have been making contacts and meeting with area police, the sheriff and judges to ensure the program truly meets the need locally. Choate said everyone they’ve met with have only emphasized the need for such an organization.

“We know we’re on the right track,” she said.

The group is still working out much of what needs to be done, but with a board put together and now regularly meeting, Choate said she believes they will be ready to make a push to the community in February. The board includes representative of mental health, human services, pharmaceutical, medical and financial experts in the area.

“You’re not going to save the world, but you’re going to save generations,” Choate said.

Choate said the organization is hoping to get other churches involved and still needs to collect food and monetary donations to help pay for a home and utilities. Until the 501(c)3 is set up, donations can be made through St. Mary’s Episcopal Church designated for the Magdalene House El Dorado. Anyone interested in volunteering can contact Choate at St. Mary’s at 863-7064

Madeleine Leroux can be reached at 862-6611 or

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