The Herald Bulletin

March 8, 2014

Re-entering society

Sister 2 Sister offers more transitional housing

By Emma Bowen Meyer For The Herald Bulletin
The Herald Bulletin

---- — ANDERSON – After years of serving as the chaplain at the Madison County Jail, Barbara Dowling saw a need in the community. Affiliated with Sister 2 Sister Reentry Ministries and Outreach, she knew their work was vital but far too limited.

Transitional housing for women re-entering society after incarceration has been available through the faith-based program since December 2009, but the facility has only been able to house four women at a time. Dowling recently purchased a house that will service three times as many women.

“I’ve always wanted to be involved with women and there was a need,” she said simply. “I started looking in June and came across this place.”

Choosing the home on Historic West Eighth Street for the location, space and price, she has been renovating the 109-year-old structure to bring it up to code and refit the layout for their specialized needs. Problems multiplied as rehabbing continued.

“I thought I got a good deal on the house,” said Dowling with a shake of the head. “But we just kept running into more and more problems.”

A major unforeseen issue was the old knob-and-tube wiring, which all had to be replaced. Much of the plumbing had to be updated or added — as more bathroom space was needed.

“The floors even had to be jacked up to make them mostly level,” she added. “That was probably the biggest structural change we made.”

The most exciting was the conversion of a laundry room into a large bathroom/laundry room. This addition created two second-floor bathrooms and one ground-level half-bathroom. Of course, all the walls have been painted (by Dowling’s son, Travis) and some of the flooring has been installed.

By sleeping three to a room, the house will hold 12 women at a time. Since older homes tend to be much more spacious, large square footage and high ceilings grace each room.

“We could have filled the house several times over already,” said Tami Blevins, executive director. “But we are not able to until we have some appliances and furniture.”

With the home, personally owned by Dowling, far over budget, the organization is hoping to receive donations from the community to furnish the home and kitchen.

“We are run strictly on donations and grants and the grants have not been great lately,” said Blevins. “We need twin beds, silverware, bowls, towels, washrags, bulletin boards, cookware — basically anything anyone would need at a bridal shower. We are setting up a home.” Here is the link to see the group’s ‘wish list’ http://www.amazon.com/gp/registry/wishlist/3SUP35EKA7001

Transitional housing is often required by a judge upon release, but an interview process conducted by Dowling, the client services director, determines whether a woman meets the criteria of Sister 2 Sister.

“We insist they have an attitude that will allow them to approach rehabilitation,” said Dowling, mentioning that the housing requires classes in areas such as personal ethics, manners, finance and Bible study.

The location serves the women well as none have driver’s licenses. Required to hold a job, visit the courthouse and Aspire, they are within 11 blocks of these necessary places.

Not only is Sister 2 Sister looking for donations to furnish the home, but also for volunteer hours. Secretarial work, office assistance and group work is needed – as well as mentors.

“Mentors serve as support systems and encourage the girls,” said Blevins. “The girls in the program don’t have a support system.”

Dowling and Blevins are excited to furnish the home and fill it with women.

“We have a waiting list,” said Blevins. “Sometimes women even have to stay in jail longer because they don’t have transitional housing available. This home means we can service and reach more girls. It means less money that the community and taxpayers will have to spend because we are rehabilitating women and keeping them out of jail.”

Each week, Emma Bowen Meyer features a Madison County home. If you know of a home that should be showcased, send an e-mail to emmagoldiemeyer@yahoo.com.

Sister 2 Sister Offices: 123 W. 8th St., Anderson 765-374-0480 765-635-9315 New House: 917 W. 8th St. Sister 2 Sister will be selling cupcakes and cakes for the Easter holiday. Anyone interested can call and leave their name and phone number at 374-0480.