Debbi Hanna’s mission is about to come to fruition.
She met Pastor Brandon Mitchell of City Life Church six months ago while she was volunteering at the Manatee County jail. He was conducting a service; she was there as a religious volunteer doing a recovery meeting with women, just as she has the past nine years.
Hanna typically wears an infectious smile and has a glimmer of hope in her blue eyes. But as she spoke to Mitchell, she vented to him about how, denial after denial, she still needed to find a home for her Beauty for Ashes transition house, something she’s been wanting to do for six years. He thought for a moment, and said he could help.
“She had a need, and we had a house,” Mitchell said.
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A divine intervention.
The three-bedroom house on the City Life Church campus, located at 1300 17th Ave. W., was being used for church storage. Next week, it will house six women coming out of jail or out of abusive relationships in need of a place to get their lives back on track.
The name Beauty for Ashes comes from the verse Isaiah 61:3. As a Christian-centered program, women will adjust to their new lives through Christian counseling, volunteering with City Life Church, attending recovery classes and continuing their education or job search.
“As we help these ladies, it betters the community,” Hanna said.
I didn’t have any daughters. Now, I have a whole bunch of them.
Debbi Hanna, Beauty for Ashes Women’s House
Even though just a few steps away are the temptations of 14th Street, which are notorious for prostitution and drug trafficking, Hanna said many factors will keep women on the right path. Cameras on the property will keep the women safe and honest, and Hanna’s 18-month-old drug-sniffing German shepherd, Tesla, will double as a therapy dog.
Hanna hasn’t received note about the grants she applied for and the 12- to 18-month program is expected to cost about $1,000 per woman per month, which the women will eventually have to pay for once their finances are in order.
Women who come to the house will have dealt with addiction problems such as cocaine, prescription pills and heroin, Hanna said. During sessions at the jail, Hanna talks to them about things they’ve done in the past and things done to them.
“The stories are so often the same,” she said.
She recalled working with a woman who was getting out of jail last December, who told Hanna she needed her program. She would die without it, she said. Not two hours after she was released from jail, the woman died of a heroin overdose.
When women leave jail with nothing, they often return to the places that caused problems in the first place, which plays into the cycle of jail, Hanna said.
“We can’t save the whole community at one time, but we can save one person in the community at a time,” Mitchell said.
Hanna plans to complete her master’s degree from Liberty University in addiction counseling to help the women. She still has work to do between now and the house opening Sunday, and she depends on the help of volunteers. She said donated items including three bunk beds, mattress pads, a refrigerator and gift cards, especially for gas, are still needed.
Women can apply to the program at the jail through discharge planner Debra Bacon or on their website, Hanna said.
“I didn’t have any daughters,” she said. “Now, I have a whole bunch of them.”