January 8, 2009 in Washington Voices

Helping women take steps into new lives

Hearth Homes provides housing, services for families in transition
Cindy Hval Correspondent
 
Jesse Tinsley the Spokesman-Review photo

Karen Fournier, far right, sits with Sandra Williams, far left, the house manager for Hearth Homes, two of their residents, Tabitha Allen, center, and her children Zekia, 11 months, and Nicole, 7, in back, and Mandy McGhee, second from right, and her son Kaden Hildebrandt, 3, at Hearth Homes, a women and children’s housing facility in Northeast Spokane. Fournier was a drug addict and was homeless as a much younger person and started Hearth Homes on her own. the Spokesman-Review
(Full-size photo)(All photos)

On the Web

For more information about Hearth Home visit: www.hearth-homes.org/

Karen Fournier knows what it’s like to be homeless.

The instability of a chaotic family life led to a series of bad choices. She started using drugs at 13, and while still in high school was arrested for dealing.

Her life was in a decidedly downward spiral. “I was living under bridges and doing really bad stuff,” said the Spokane Valley resident. Yet at 15, she said God told her she was going to open a group home. A home like the one she so desperately needed at the time.

Years would pass. “I didn’t get clean until I was 29.” A car accident and the resulting DUI propelled her into treatment. She bought a home near Spokane Community College when her daughter was a baby, and her son was born shortly thereafter.

“Seven years later, I was moving to the Valley and I couldn’t sell the house,” Fournier said. She remembered her vision to open a home for women and children and decided the house would be the first Hearth Home. “I always knew God had this place.”

The mission of Hearth Homes is “to serve women and children by meeting their spiritual, emotional and physical needs of safe housing and other necessary related services.” The home was opened in 2003, and the organization attained nonprofit status in 2004.

Fournier found support and encouragement at One, the church she attends in Spokane Valley. She also found a house manager. Fifty-four-year-old Sandra Williams sings in the worship team at the church. She’s also a childbirth educator and a doula who’s attended the birth of approximately 50 babies. More importantly she had her own vision to help women and children. “I’m here to mentor and nurture the girls,” she said. “Some of them have lived a lifetime or two of bad experiences.” She paused; her warm, rich voice brimmed with emotion. “I call them princesses.”

Williams said the courage of the women motivates and inspires her. She helps the three women currently living in the North Side home learn the basics of household budgets and menu planning. It requires work, but, Williams said, “There’s a lot of fun and laughter around here.” She also leads daily devotions for those who are interested.

Mandy McGhee is interested. The 30-year-old single mother lives in the home with her 3-year-old son, Kayden. She heard about Hearth Homes through her attorney. “I’ve been here 2  1/2 weeks,” she said. “I knew it’d be a safe place for me and my son.”

McGhee has been in recovery from meth addiction for over two years and is working toward her GED. “Sandra is my family,” she said. As Kayden giggled and played nearby, McGhee said that the home meets both physical and spiritual needs.

Tabitha Allen agreed. She recently moved back into the home after trying a different housing program. “It’s very hard to find a place to stay with your kids – especially when it’s cold outside,” said the 26-year-old mother of two. She said living at Hearth Home feeds her soul. “It’s so nourishing.”

That’s just what Fournier had hoped to create. To fund the ministry, she works full time as an account manager for an insurance agency. In addition, the organization receives funds from private donors. Those funds are especially needed now, as Fournier’s vision continues to expand. She plans to open two additional homes in Spokane Valley as soon as possible. She’d hoped one of them would be open before Christmas, but the weather didn’t cooperate. The home still needs carpet, tile and paint. “We have moms waiting to move in,” she said. “The need is growing.”

The only eligibility requirement is that the women be clean and sober. “We’ve only asked one person to leave in five years,” Fournier said.

Her dream is to one day house entire families, “like Habitat for Humanity,” she said. “Families will restore homes and then live in them.”

Williams said, “If people could see these girls and their children and their needs, I believe people would come on line and help us.”

Cindy Hval can be reached at dchval@juno.com.


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