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More than a year after forming as a new nonprofit in the community, the Magdalene House of El Dorado has secured a home to use as its facility where it will carry out the mission to help women survivors of sexual exploitation, violence and addiction.

“We have been fortunate enough to have been offered a house,” said Magdalene House of El Dorado board president Becky Choate. “It needs some updating and lots of work and a lot of TLC.”

The group, which started through St. Mary’s Episcopal Church, where Choate works, held a board meeting in late February where they formally approved taking ownership of the donated property. Choate said the paperwork has yet to be signed, so the deal isn’t yet official and the location of the property will not be made public until that happens.

The local group originated with Magdalene House Nashville, which was founded by Becca Stevens in 1996. Choate had looked into the organization, along with members of the St. Mary’s congregation, including Connie Tarver, vice president of the board.

In the past year, Choate said, they have learned a lot about how to properly start and operate this program, looking at different Magdalene Houses in other communities.

“It has had its ups and downs,” Choate said.

The group has gone back to Nashville for an event of Magdalene House representatives and will return again in June for the same reason. These events, Choate said, allow them to learn what works for other communities and tour operating facilities.

With the property acquired, the group is now turning its attention to needed work on the home before it can be furnished.

“We have now got a focus,” Choate said.

That focus is first and foremost to gather volunteers to help take on projects around the property that must be addressed before it can be habitable. Choate also noted that they will be working with the city to ensure it will meet code requirements. She noted that some of the work includes repairing eaves, fixing a back door area and replacing the stove.

“I think we’ll be able to make it what we want it to be and like a home for them,” Tarver said. “I think it will work out real good for our residents and we’re just going to move forward immediately on trying to renovate.”

Alison Burroff, a board member, said anyone who is willing to help, whether they are skilled or not, can contact Choate at the St. Mary’s office at 870-863-7064. But, as with almost any renovation, it’s not enough to have workers.

“Cash is what we really need,” Choate said, adding that anyone who is willing to donate to the Magdalene House can contact her at the St. Mary’s office. “We can find people that maybe paint, but we’ve got to have money to buy the paint.”

Tarver added that what they are looking for is people who “are as passionate about this as we are.”

Because they are largely relying on volunteer labor and donations, there is no timeline yet set for having the property completed and ready to open. Once it is up to code and ready, the next step will be filling it with furnishings, of which the organization already has quite a bit donated.

“We’ve got plenty of furniture,” Choate said, though she added the group will still need to find some twin beds.

Once it’s furnished, they will move on to the interview process women will go through establish if they will commit to the program, Choate said. The women will be set up in the house and provided with everything from medical, dental and mental health services to everyday necessities, along with “lots of love and support.”

Women who take part in the process must be clean when they arrive at the house, Choate said.

“There’s a lot of love to be given. Love is what’s going to change this world,” Choate said. The organization hopes to serve six to eight women at a time and it’s likely that many of the women they serve will come from the prison system, having forced to be clean.

The program lasts two years and eventually will entail the women taking part in a business enterprise, which has not yet been worked out as the board members noted that they are trying to focus on one thing at a time as they start the program.

“We all know coming up with a business enterprise is a little hard to do,” Choate said.

Burroff added, “We have a lot of good ideas … we finally figured out we needed to concentrate on the one piece and get the house ready.”

Choate said the first 90 days will focus on taking care of each residents’ every need, including mental and physical health. Then they will assist women in furthering their education, whether it’s attaining a GED or enrolling at the local community college. After that, they will turn to employment.

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

A fundraising event for the Magdalene House will be held next week — the organization’s second annual Not Your Momma’s Moth Ball, which is billed as an event for women and by women. The ball, which encourages attendees to dig out old dresses or outfits from their closets to wear, is set for 6:30-8:30 p.m. Thursday.

Madeleine Leroux can be reached at 862-6611 or mleroux@eldoradonews.com.

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