Abigail's Home hopes to help families build a better life.
By MONICA BOND
VINDICATOR TRUMBULL STAFF
WARREN -- The tri-county area has northeastern Ohio's highest rate of single head-of-household women who can't make ends meet.
To help combat this, Abigail's Home will open the doors of its new facility at 1400 Tod Ave. this September "to provide a place of love and compassion and caring" to women "with a need" and their children.
"We want to put our hand out. If you want the help, this is the place to come," said Tina McGowan, Abigail's Home executive director and founder.
Women and children are the fastest-growing homeless group, McGowan said. Millions of children leave school each year and go to homeless shelters; the typical age of a homeless child is 6.
She said 56 women have already approached Abigail's Home for help, even though it is not yet open.
McGowan said Abigail's Home hopes to provide a safe place for women to regain control of their lives and make a plan.
"Many women are just trying to get from today to tomorrow. They don't know where to go or what to do," she said. "We want to guide them. They will come in here and then we will network with local agencies to help the women get a plan."
Seeing the need
McGowan began plans for Abigail's Home in September 2003. She said she gradually saw the need for an emergency home that would provide an atmosphere of love and caring for women as they put their lives back on track.
"I lived in a shelter with my two babies when I was married the first time. That was 23 years ago. The lady there loved me where I was at; she went with me and helped me as I got my life in order," she said.
McGowan and her husband were foster parents for four years and "saw the children go through a lot of pain" as their mothers "did their own thing and drifted in and out of the children's lives."
McGowan said she worked in human resources for different area businesses and eventually ended up at New Life Maternity Home in Vienna Township.
"I saw what the girls went through. I really enjoyed being involved in that ministry," she said.
McGowan said she knew in September 2003 she needed to do something more after she ran into roadblocks when helping women in emergency situations.
"I came to see what we needed to do. If you had an emergency, there was nowhere to go. I wanted to provide what we call a wrap-around service for women with a need -- that's the only requirement, a need," she said.
That fall, McGowan prayed for direction.
"I knew I needed to do something more, so I asked the Lord to give me a name, and that's when I met Lorraine and Abigale," she said.
Lorraine and Abigale were homeless and in need of medical help. McGowan helped them get the necessary attention and contact their family members. Lorraine and Abigale now live in Scotland with family, but McGowan said she will never forget Abigale's "big brown eyes."
"Sometimes when I feel like giving up, I remember her big brown eyes and that's what keeps me going," she said.
Tom Dobson, who owns the Riverside Square building on Tod Avenue that used to be St. Joseph Riverside Hospital, gave McGowan space for Abigail's Home. He is bringing in different groups that can work together; WIC is downstairs, McGowan said.
"Every time I went to him and told him we needed more space, he said OK. I thought he'd say we were getting too big, but he didn't," she said.
Dobson gave Abigail's Home space on the first and second floors and the entire fourth floor. The second floor, set to open Sept. 1, will temporarily house the administrative offices and the first dozen bedrooms. Each bedroom has its own bathroom so the women don't need to come out of their rooms undressed, McGowan said.
The first floor will open in 2006 and the fourth floor in 2007. The fourth floor will have administration offices, a chapel, a recreation room, a fitness room and offices for outside agencies who work with the women. The first floor will have housing for mothers with adolescent boys.
"The adolescent boys are often not allowed in homeless shelters because of the higher risks. We want to prevent them having to go to foster care," she said.
McGowan said she was surprised to learn adolescent boys are a higher risk because women often pursue them sexually, and not because the boys will do something. To help reduce this danger, the wing housing mothers with adolescent boys will be an open area with good visibility.
McGowan said each area will have supervisors who operate in three shifts.
"We won't have a house resident who sleeps here; it's too hard for them and they burn out quickly," she said.
Abigail's Home will work with Trumbull County Children's Services, Women Infants and Children, Help Me Grow, Adult Parole Authorities, Trumbull Correction Institution and any other groups who want to work with them, McGowan said.
"I'm not duplicating anything," she said.
McGowan said it will cost $2 million a year to run Abigail's Home when it is fully operational.
"We're applying to various foundations and seeking grant money; it will be available some time between now and next year," she said.
McGowan said Abigail's Home is funded entirely by community donations right now.
"We have a lot of places coming forward saying they will do something [a fundraising event] for us and we send a representative," she said.
McGowan said Abigail's Home needs help from anyone who has the time or money to help out.
"We can't do it on our own. It will take people in the community coming together," she said.