The Journey Home
By Linda Salisbury
The “journey” to building The Journey Home (TJH) in Mineral has taken a little longer than expected. Nonetheless, organizers Ed and Debby Read, 15-year residents of Lake Anna, are not only optimistic but thankful for help and encouragement from those they are meeting along the way.
Ground was broken Aug. 3, 2018 for the 12,000 square foot transitional home on Lee Street. Planned to help house 20-25 residents, an unusual amount of rain has been a major holdup for starting work. Once construction begins, the facility should be ready in ten months, Debby said. According to the Reads and community members serving on its board, “The Journey Home’s mission is to provide Christ-centered transitional housing to individuals or families in need of a temporary place to live (for up to eighteen months) where they receive support in rebuilding their lives and find hope for the next step in their journey to being independent members of our community.”
The idea came to Debby in 2014 during communion at Mineral Baptist Church when she said God gave her a vision and a calling to help people rebuild their lives. She talked with her husband on the way home from church, and the idea immediately began to take shape.
Their response to God’s call was not surprising. Both the Reads have medical backgrounds: Ed is a former emergency room physician, and Debby is a former pediatric nurse. They have done medical missionary work and have seen the suffering of people at home and around the world. The couple could have just enjoyed their retirement home, but instead have remained active in service to others. Now they are heeding God’s call to take on this challenge.
With a great need for a transitional home, the idea for TJH quickly caught on. The project, a 501(c)3 organization, has had great community involvement from volunteers, businesses, and organizations – as well as donations of supplies – and they have numerous grants to help them reach their goal. Time and energy has not been wasted while the building was being designed and planned and permits were issued. In 2018 alone, the Reads and their son-in-law Ben Reid logged 1,750 volunteer hours. Much of it was spent networking to build relationships and garner specific support from people who will be working with them at the home.
“We’ve been blessed by amazing community support,” Debby explained from the couple’s sunny home in January. She was joined in the living room by Ed and Ben, who moved with his family from Pennsylvania to Louisa three years ago to help with the project. They shared statistics, the contacts they have made, and their progress on the construction and plans.
Debby said the delay in construction, while initially disappointing, has been in God’s hands. In the interim, the Reads and Ben have seen time spent networking as beneficial to both getting the word out and having offers to help.
She explained that builder Howard Loudin has handled all the pre-construction work, including obtaining permits and developing the contract. Howard’s son, Kevin, has been selected as the job’s superintendent. Local businesses such as Wayne’s Heating and Cooling are working with the Reads to give good prices on supplies the home will need. Others have volunteered to help, including an interior decorator from Charlottesville, an architect, and a surveyor
Debby added that TJH has a dedicated board of directors with a variety of expertise. These individuals include Joy Hartman, banker; Jennifer Schulz, social worker; and Darvin Satterwhite, an attorney and pastor. The Reads have met with organizers of transitional programs in other communities and with numerous groups such as Habitat for Humanity, the Louisa/Fluvanna Housing Foundation, and the Louisa County Resource Council. These interactions have helped them build a broad network of expertise and support.
Ben is heading up an extension of the program called The Next Step. He said it will provide a second transition – after the maximum 18-month stay at TJH – to help find affordable rental housing in the community for TJH graduates. The Next Step participants will be living independently but will have support. Ben is looking for available existing houses that can be renovated and for land where homes might be constructed, perhaps in partnership with developers. Networking will also occur with other organizations with expertise in affordable housing.
Debby said while TJH construction has been delayed, Ben has been actively working on different community projects with other groups. This has included building handicap ramps and making roof repairs. Getting involved in these projects has helped Ben get to know people and assist others. He is also interested in developing a group of volunteers who can help with construction projects.
Most of TJH’s residents are expected to be women with children. They will be chosen not only by circumstances, but also for their willingness to participate fully in the facility’s programs and requirements. The home will have flexible housing options for various combinations of families.
Although the units will have small kitchens, residents will be members of the larger community, eating and participating in activities together. They will join in chores for the good of the community, such as preparing meals and cleaning up. A number of residents will be working on their GEDs to complete high school. They will learn how to make budgets, prepare nutritious meals, and – with the help of life coaches – work on other skills that will be helpful when they are ready to transition to their new lives.
They are also encouraged to attend a church of their choice and participate in Bible study. If substance abuse has been a problem, TJH will help those residents stay clean through counseling and support programs. One area of the complex will house computers so that residents can build computer skills and work on job applications. There will also be play areas for children.
The Reads are interviewing people for the resident director’s job, which will be a person or couple who will live in an apartment on the first floor and be in charge of day-to-day operations. They are training other volunteers to be life coaches to mentor and assist individuals. The Reads are also learning about area resources such as Piedmont Virginia Community College (PVCC). They hope to connect people with jobs as well as help people of low income get job skills, including some through scholarships.
As the Reads have steadily learned about Louisa County, they have talked with school officials and local businesses about job opportunities and training for participants. Various community agencies and churches have identified a tremendous need for the services that TJH plans to offer.
Lack of affordable housing is a critical issue for many Virginia counties, including Louisa, Ed said. In late 2018, PVCC released figures that paint a picture of what the economic struggles are for some families in Louisa County. The numbers show the hardship many families face, and their difficulties are compounded by their lack of a high school diploma or job skills, the availability of jobs that pay a livable wage, and the cost of childcare.
Ed said that a working person with two children (one being a toddler) would need to earn $35,606 a year to pay for food, clothing, shelter, utilities, and other necessary costs. However, another $10,000 would need to be added for transportation and childcare. Statistics show that 2,005 of Louisa County’s families make less than that. That means, according to PVCC, that 21 percent of the county’s families are struggling economically.
There is also a need for transitional housing for men and women who are reentering society after serving time in prison, and sometimes for foster children who have “aged out” (turned eighteen) before finishing high school or finding a permanent home. Someone coming out of a drug rehab program who is serious about staying clean and getting his or her life back on track also needs a stable place to live. A family that has lost its home due to a fire will need a place to live while starting over, Debby added.
As they have researched community needs, the Reads learned that there are 60 to 80 students in the area who are homeless. Some are on their own, and others live in cars or tents with families. They also have heard heartbreaking stories in Louisa, including one of a foster child who was homeless in the middle of his senior year because he was too old to remain in foster care.
Another family ran into major financial problems when the father’s disease left him unable to work and the wife’s income only paid enough for their hotel stay when they lost their home. “Area churches are trying to help with food and clothes,” said Debby, but the family is having trouble surviving.
Although the statistics are concerning and the need is great, the Reads are optimistic that TJH is a first step in providing a new kind of help within a caring community that is searching for solutions. Debby said their research shows that transitional home residents can be successful after they leave because they have been given the tools to be independent. They have received support, not just a roof over their heads.
Ed added that “there is a difference between doing for, rather than working with, which is the basis of the home’s philosophy.” The Journey Home will be doing the latter: coming alongside people to help get them back on their feet, Debby explained.
To date, TJH has raised or secured $1.15 million of its $1.8 million goal. The Reads said that support has come from the Louisa County Community Fund; the Perry Foundation in Charlottesville; the Mary Morton Parson’s Foundation in Richmond; BAMA Works, which is funded by the Dave Matthews Band in Charlottesville; the W.W Whitlock Foundation; and the RG Purcell Family Charitable Foundation. “TJH has been blessed with many individual local supporters, including more than 200 different donors in 2018,” Debby added.
The Reads are continuing to look for financial and other support through their fundraising efforts. They have an auction set for May 4 at Mineral Baptist Church with auctioneer Col. Bill Billingsley volunteering his services. They will also have a yard sale again in October. Donations are currently placed in storage above the Family Life Center at Mineral Baptist Church. Cash donations are welcome, and Debby said that gently used furniture is also being collected for the home. Items that can’t be used for the home will go to the yard sale.
Opening the home will be the end of the planning and construction journey and the beginning of another as residents move in. Volunteers will be needed for aiding with transportation; praying for residents; leading Bible studies; tutoring and mentoring; teaching reading skills; helping with job applications; assisting with money management; leading parenting and cooking skills classes; handling building maintenance and room decoration; and finding affordable permanent housing.
“We would love to have more people join us in this journey as together we give hope and help to those in need in Louisa County,” Debby emphasized.