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Just a few months after securing a local property for use, the Magdalene House has completed its initial inspections and found itself in need in one particular area — skilled volunteer laborers.

The Magdalene House, which started through St. Mary’s Episcopal Church, aims to provide a two-year program to help women survivors of sexual exploitation, violence and addiction. Since starting the local group last year, board members have worked to acquire a suitable property and furnishings.

In late February, the board formally approved taking ownership of a donated house in El Dorado. Since then, they’ve met with city inspectors and an architect to identify what needs to be done before anyone can move in. Becky Choate, board president, said the house needs a lot of work and there are plenty of projects to take on. She described the property as being an older house that has a “cottage feel,” with a screened in porch.

“It’s got a lot of personality,” Choate said.

Leading the charge in terms of planning and organizing the work ahead is Betsy Baumgarten, who along with her husband ministers at St. Mary’s. Baumgarten said right now, they are looking for “anyone in the community who would be willing to offer up their expertise and their time helping the house get to a point where we can welcome our clients in.”

Baumgarten said they have two volunteers groups already scheduled and the board is considering organizing a St. Mary’s work night to encourage the congregation to help out as well. But those volunteers will be more able to help with moving in the furnishing, which are already gathered, and setting the house up, as well as other unskilled work that needs to be done.

And before that work can be undertaken, there are several jobs that will require volunteers who have a knowledge of plumbing, electrical or heating and air conditioning systems.

“There’s some large maintenance issues that need to be dealt with,” Baumgarten said. “If we can get those taken care of, then it will be easier for some of the unskilled work, painting rooms, cleaning base boards, cleaning air vents, things that a youth group can do.”

Choate noted the heat and air conditioning system is a large concern, adding that before the board took on the property, someone got into the vacant property and stole the original units and water heater, among other items. That and needed work in the home’s kitchen are what Choate anticipates to be the nonprofit’s largest expenses.

One of the reasons the board is working hard to try to complete as much work as possible with volunteer labor is because the nonprofit wants to be sure it has the finances to keep the house open for at least two years, as it is meant to be a two-year program for those who participate.

“The funding is one of our biggest concerns,” Choate said.

Choate and Baumgarten emphasized that any donations made to the Magdalene House will go toward helping local people in Union County.

While there is no concrete timeline to complete work on the house, Baumgarten said she would love to see how much can be accomplished over the summer and set a goal of opening the home in late fall, ideally. Once it’s open, the three-bedroom home will be able to serve up to six women at a time.

“Magdalene House is not an emergency women’s shelter,” Baumgarten said. “Before we start our program, before we have our first client come in, it is important that we have all the T’s crossed and all the I’s dotted because we want this to be a successful ministry for the people we’re serving.”

Madeleine Leroux can be reached at 870-862-6611 or mleroux@eldoradonews.com.

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