After Sunday services at the Center City Corps in downtown Indianapolis, men and women head downstairs to attend Bible study, socialize and celebrate fellowship. For one group of women, this time together is more than a social gathering – it’s a lifeline.
The Growing Strong program grew from a need that emerged during those gatherings in the basement. The initiative, which helps women find ways to survive and thrive once they leave a shelter, started with a simple recurring conversation. Women who had successfully navigated the world on their own found themselves acting as consultants, sharing advice and coffee with women who were preparing to leave the shelter and were anxious about the change.
Becky Roberson, the administrator at Center City Corps, recognized that a real need for this kind of kinship and information-sharing existed within her congregation. Center City Corps is a part of the Block of Hope, home to the Ruth Lilly Women and Children’s Center, where many of these women had spent time learning how to get back on their feet during difficult times. Working with a core group of women, Becky started the Growing Strong program as a way to formalize these efforts.
“Once you get out on your own,” Becky explains. “You have to learn how to be independent, so it’s not a cycle. Sometimes they get so overwhelmed with even trying to get the basic necessities.” A recurring problem is that these women are bounced around from agency to agency, unsure what they need to do, until they give up and find themselves back in a shelter. Becky sums it up nicely: “It’s like they’re chasing their own tails.”
The Growing Strong women share tips on getting assistance, finding transportation, living without a cash flow, acquiring toiletries and cleaning supplies and even getting free or low-cost supplies like toilet paper and baby wipes. They gather in groups, like “Crafty Ladies,” where bonding takes place over coffee, scrapbooking and the secrets to rebuilding your life.
Cynthia, a mentor in the program, fondly refers to the women as her children. “I’m the oldest one in the whole congregation, so all of them are really my children and I love them all. I just thank the Lord for The Salvation Army.” She shares her wisdom with the younger women and gives them hope for a better tomorrow.
One of those women is Dawn, who found solace and sisterhood in the group. Her troubled past began with an abusive childhood that led to drug abuse and mental health problems. It wasn’t until she found herself taking shelter with The Salvation Army that her path to recovery was finally able to begin. As a part of Growing Strong, Dawn continues to share her successes with the next generation.
“I went into material management training and got seven certificates,” Dawn says. “I ended up meeting a wonderful pastor and her husband and a great group of ladies that I consider my friends and my family.”
Just as these women support each other, your support of The Salvation Army makes it possible for programs like Growing Strong to change lives every day.