Karen Fournier is on a mission to help young mothers take care of themselves and their children.
The young mothers come from bad situations. Some come to her from abusive relationships. Some of them have a history of drug or alcohol abuse. Some of them didn’t finish high school. Many of them have burned bridges with family members and have nowhere else to go. All of them are homeless and have young children.
In 2003, Fournier opened her first Hearth Homes in Spokane and became a nonprofit organization about a year later. She wanted a safe place for young women and their children to live while they learned how to make a budget, parent effectively and live as a family with others.
It had been her dream to open a group home since she was 15, living on the streets, using drugs and “all that goes with that.” She said God told her that she should open a group home for women like her.
“People helped me up,” she said. “God called me to do it.”
That dream is now expanding.
“We’re really trying to give them a life,” Fournier said. “It takes them a while to understand what the reality is.”
Three years ago, she moved the home to Spokane Valley. In December 2010, there were 18 young mothers she had to turn away – there was simply no room for them.
The house next door – six bedrooms and two-and-a-half bathrooms – had recently gone into foreclosure. One of her usual donors offered Hearth Homes $25,000 for the down payment. He later came back to Fournier and doubled the donation to help pay for the home’s operating expenses.
But economic times were tough: Every bank and credit union Fournier asked for a loan rejected her. Through a Christian foundation, an anonymous donor found the rest of the money needed to buy the home, allowing Fournier to more than double the program’s capacity.
After extensive remodeling, Hearth Homes will hold a grand opening celebration Feb. 23.
The wooden floors have been restored, as have the built-in cabinetry in the bedrooms. The bathrooms have been re-fitted with new toilets and tubs. The walls have been painted. Large windows fill the living room with natural light.
The women who live in the house must live by the rules, and Fournier said there are a lot of them.
They have to get up with their children, shower and get dressed. They learn about living on a monthly budget, which includes coming up with a small monthly rent. Fournier said she doesn’t charge them rent for the money, but to get her clients in the habit of paying rent.
They attend parenting classes. They learn life skills. They study the Bible. Hearth Homes also helps connect the women to services such as counseling or food banks.
If the women have men in their lives, there are strict rules. The men must make an appointment with the house manager to speak with the clients. They have to show they are responsible and show up to the appointment on time. If the meeting works out, they coordinate a dinner and staff members monitor the interaction between the couple.
In the almost 10 years the organization has been in operation, there is one young mother who stands out in Fournier’s memory.
She was very young and had a 5-year-old child. Her boyfriend was using drugs. She was pregnant. The woman stayed a few months, but the boyfriend kept coming around. Soon, she left with him for good.
Eventually she came back, telling Fournier her boyfriend had beat her up the week after she left the home, but was ashamed to come back.
Her boyfriend worked hard to get off drugs and soon the woman had her baby. Fournier said she saw a change in the man when he held his child for the first time.
“He loved that baby,” she said. “We could see that. He did.”
He’s been clean for about two years now, and they share an apartment. They attend church, had another baby and are planning a wedding this fall.
“They’re way past where they were,” Fournier said.
Fournier said the women in the home become a family. They don’t spend all their time in their rooms. They are expected to be a part of the family, cook and share meals together and raise their children.
“God brings together the women who need to be together at the time,” Fournier said.