It took 14 years to turn a dream into reality, but it was worth the wait for Mary Yaw of Alexandria.
Yaw's dream began in 1997 when she believes God put the Bible verse Titus 2:4 in her head: "...so that they may encourage the young women to love their husbands, to love their children."
Believing she was being called to mentor other women, she set out to do just that by forming a nonprofit entity called Titus 2 Homes and working to open a Christ-centered home to help women in need.
In February 2008 she formed a board and established goals that included providing quality living accommodations, helping women acquire daily life skills to live independently, offering counseling services and assisting women in obtaining employment.
A prayer was answered in the fall of 2008 when a local couple donated a house just east of Alexandria and leased the 5.7 acres it stood on to Titus 2 Homes.
The three-story house, built in 1900, had been vacant for a couple of years. Thanks to numerous volunteer efforts and donations, remodeling got under way in June 2009. The old house was transformed into a modern, comfortable home. Yaw moved into the third floor in July 2011, and in October, the home opened its doors to its true calling - helping women in need.
Yaw hopes to also have a live-in assistant. The home is licensed to house 10 people, six of which may be adults.
Anyone living in the home is expected to pay a program fee and undergo training on how to take care of a home.
Titus 2 Homes residents must follow all house rules, which include limited access to Internet, television and cell phone use.
"They need to learn face-to-face communication," Yaw explained.
Classes, training and support are offered to women in the areas of education, transportation, well-being, nutrition, household, spirituality and friendship.
Classes and lessons are also offered in such areas as cooking, sewing, quilting, maintaining a house, car care, etc.
"They need to learn how to take care of things and be self-sufficient, as well as learn hobbies so they have things to occupy their mind, rather than making bad choices," Yaw explained.
Yaw currently has one young woman living with her at Titus 2 Homes.
"There's no way I would have let her in the house the way she was when I first met her," Yaw said. Instead of turning her back on the woman, Yaw reached out in other ways. In October, she began visiting the jail where the girl was being held to conduct Bible studies and talk with her.
The woman admits that at first she was only interested in Yaw's program as a way to get out of jail.
"I had been in other programs. It was the same thing over and over since I was 18," she said. "I was just manipulating the system and looking for a way to get out of prison time. But at some point my thought process just changed. It was like God had a plan."
"There is this peace that comes about in some of these young, struggling women," Yaw said. "That is what drives me and keeps me going with this. You can just see them change."
Eventually the woman was released from jail and on December 13 moved to Titus 2 Homes, where her young son comes for overnight visits.
She is currently undergoing counseling and self-care classes.
"For the first one to three months, we focus on their self-esteem," Yaw explained. "We get them eye care, dental, medical and we have two salons currently working with us.
"We want them to walk proud rather than beaten up."
The young resident also knows she has to help herself before moving forward.
"Right now I am just focusing on getting me back together," she said. "Eventually I want a house and a job and to live on my own. I've never been on my own."
A SUPPORT SYSTEM
Corrine Disrud of Alexandria first called Titus 2 Homes for help this past summer.
"I had hit a brick wall in my life," she said. "I knew I had to do something."
Her mother had heard about Titus 2 Homes and encouraged her to call. She did, and was soon involved in a Bible study and divorce care classes to help her with the divorce she was going through.
She didn't need a place to live, but did need support, encouragement and help with some of the issues she was facing.
"I just needed guidance," the young mother said. "I got my life on track again and am making good choices. If I had kept going the way I was going, I would have been dead. It took God to get me out of it."
Disrud is a student at Alexandria Technical and Community College, where she also works. She hopes to enroll in the law enforcement program next year.
"I didn't expect it to help me as much as it did," she said of Titus 2 Homes. "I just want to continue on the right path. I don't want to go back. I know there will be rough patches but I feel like I can handle them now.
"It's not even about me anymore," she added. "People have put their trust in me, and I have a greater love of people now."
Yaw admits that she is learning as she goes, and that the program needs to be flexible in order to meet the varied needs of the women who may come her way.
"We're all a work in progress," she said. "We're just learning as we go along.
"I know I am not going to be able to help everyone. They have to make the choice on their own or it won't work.
"Some are here and then gone, and maybe they'll come back when they're ready. So sometimes I just have to wait, because I can't force it."
Yaw is amazed at how far her mentorship calling has taken her, but knows there is so much more to be done. She also knows it can't be done without the help of so many others.
"We are a debt-free ministry," she explained, sharing her gratitude with everyone who has volunteered time, expertise and funds to make Titus 2 Homes a reality.
She said volunteers are always needed to serve as "house moms" to be there with residents when she needs to go out, or people to share their talents or skills through classes. Financial donations are also needed.