GREEN From the outside, it looks like just a normal home in the city of Green, but on the inside, it is a safe place for women to live to get their life on a better path.
Lydia’s Home opened at the end of August 2017 and has three residents, but can house up to six.
Dennis Shawhan, executive director of Broken Chains Ministry, has led the charge to better the lives of women and save them from being incarcerated.
Shawhan said the house was purchased in March 2017 and underwent a complete remodel totaling $80,000. The house formerly was occupied by a family with 12 children.
"There isn’t a spot that hasn’t been re-done," Shawhan said.
Walking into the home, there are cubbies for each of the women to put their jackets and other items. The large kitchen features double ovens and plenty of space to prepare meals. Shawhan said mentors come in and help prepare meals because some of the women may not know how to.
The house features a large living room, dining room, four bedrooms, an office, educational room and a theater room. There is a family room in the basement where families can come during approved visits on Saturday and Sundays for two to four hours. There is also a workout area and a craft room in the basement.
Some of the women that arrive don’t have much when it comes to clothes and shoes, so there is a closet in the basement of donations of clothing and shoes that has been made and the women are able to pick some things out.
Cell phones and social media are off limits for the women, but Shawhan said many of them don’t want anything to do with it anyways when they come to the house. Each woman is permitted to use the landline phone for 10 minutes each day, but only for approved phone numbers by the staff. All calls incoming are screened and the ladies cannot just answer the phone.
The house has five full-time staff members and someone is always there with the women.
"Everyone that comes here isn’t sentenced here," Shawhan said. "It is voluntary."
The outside will also be an inviting area with a fire pit and in the spring plenty of flowers as more than 850 bulbs were planted last fall. Shawhan said the property value has easily doubled with the improvements made.
Originally, Shawhan was looking for a home in Springfield Township to run the program. He said people would send him links of homes for sale, but they were all not what he was looking for. Finally, the home in Green came up when a real estate friend called Shawhan. He put in a bid and got the property.
In Green, he has had a chance to meet with and interact with many city officials along with neighbors. Shawhan has also become a member of Green’s Opiate Taskforce.
Neighbors had concerns at first wondering just how the home would operate. All the neighboring residents were invited to an open house because Shawhan wanted complete transparency.
"Not everyone wants this in their neighborhood," Shawhan said.
In all, 30 homeowners were invited to the open house, 12 of which showed up. Once the neighbors saw all the work that went into the house and got a better understanding of how it would be run, Shawhan said they were more accepting.
Shawhan said originally he wanted to allow up to 10 women reside in the house, but the city of Green zoning wouldn’t allow for that. He also said the city has been fantastic to work with and all the city officials have been to the home to check it out.
One of the biggest challenges is funding as no federal or state funding is received. Most of the funding comes from donations and through grants. Enough funding was obtained to get the house up and running, now Shawhan is looking for funding to support the house moving forward.
Once a woman arrives at the house they will take part in a six to nine month program to get them on the right path. Shawhan estimates nine to 12 women will go through the program in a 12 month period. The goal is to create a safe faith based living space for the women.
Each women is screened before being accepted to come live at the house, as Shawhan said they want to find women who would be a good fit. The women who are accepted are low level offenders. Shawhan has been a chaplain at the Summit County Jail for 22 years and he often sees women there that are a good fit for the program.
Currently, of the three women living in the home one has been there since August, one since December and the other arrived in the middle of January.
Shawhan said some of the women don’t have driver’s license or any form of ID when they arrive, so they work with them to help obtain or restore those items.
"We take care of all the barrios that keep them from being employed," Shawhan said.
The women take part in 40 hours of community service along with 40 hours of workforce training during the program. The group works with the Urbean Café, which is inside the Metro Transit Center in Akron. The goal is to provide a workforce program, gain workforce experience and to help the local economy. For the first three months Shawhan said they don’t want the women working, but by the time they prepare to graduate from the program, they need to have at least $1,200 saved.
"We want to set them up for long term success," Shawhan said.
Following graduation, the women are still followed for an additional year to make sure they are getting on the right track.
Shawhan would like to see things expand into the future and maybe open another house. First he would like to see what he has started turn into a business and raise more income. He envisions it maybe being a place for the women to work after recovering.