LIMA — April 1 will mark the one-year anniversary of when Guiding Light, a home for unwed pregnant girls, had its first occupant. Since that time, 14 different girls ranging in age from 16 to 22 have stayed at the home located at 592 S. Main St.
To mark the event, Julianne Frankhouser, executive director and founder of Guiding Light, and the volunteer staff of 10 will be having an open house on March 29 from 2 to 5 p.m. “There will be tours for the community,” she said. “People will be able to come in and meet the staff. We’ll have hotdogs and a fruit and yogurt bar, and there will be door prizes.”
Frankhouser has learned a lot in the past year. “Of course, everyone’s goal is 100 percent success,” she said. “I always had it in the back of my mind, though, not to get too disappointed if the outcomes were not all as I expected.”
That mindset has helped Frankhouser overcome the challenges of helping young girls turn their lives around. “I have to make it very clear,” she said. “We are not just a shelter. We are a program.”
Girls who come to stay at Guiding Light go through an interview where the expectations are laid out very clearly. “They are required to follow the steps and the guidelines,” said Frankhouser. “They have to follow the rules and be respectful.”
The guidelines and rules include cooking once a week for everyone, doing laundry, going to church on Sundays, attending mandatory classes and a weekly support group, and rules such as enforced curfews. “If they are agreeable,” said Frankhouser, “then they sign themselves in.”
Frankhouser said that the goal for each girl by the time she leaves is that she has a job, has saved money, has received her GED diploma or is enrolled in school, has all the community resources she needs to be self-sufficient, has her own place to live and is well prepared for the baby.
Despite all the opportunities, not every girl takes full advantage of the program. “When I started this, I thought by being in a home-like environment, that would be one less thing for a girl to worry about,” said Frankhouser. “I thought their motivation would increase to meet their goals, but that is not the same for everyone.”
Frankhouser has had to ask a few of the girls to leave. “If they don’t follow the rules, if they don’t want to do the program,” she said, “we have a set standard. They receive an end date. That can be immediately or in 30 days. Some high-risk girls would rather use drugs than utilize this place as an opportunity for growth. I can’t be responsible for their choices. I can only guide them toward a way of success. That’s why we are called Guiding Light — it’s hope for a better life, but ultimately, it is their choice.”
Pat Janzen, who is Frankhouser’s neighbor, has been volunteering as a house mother at Guiding Light since before it opened.
Janzen said that introducing the girls to structure can be challenging, especially at the beginning. “The girls who come here have to learn discipline in their lives, and I’m the meanie that shows them,” she said. “But I’m not worried about the girls liking me. That’s not what I’m here for. Once they get over that first little hump, they realize I will do anything for them, and I care about them.”
It’s not all rules and regulations, though. The staff also throws baby showers, birthday parties and holiday parties for the girls.
Frankhouser said that the average stay for a girl at Guiding light is between four and six months, and they often leave before the baby arrives so they are settled in their future home.
The girls are referred to Guiding Light from a variety of sources including local agencies, other shelters, the health department, schools and doctors’ offices.
One of the biggest challenges Frankhouser has encountered is staffing the home overnight. “Right now, we could use more overnight staff,” she said. “We have adults here 24/7. This is a full-time ministry.”
Although funding has also been a challenge, Frankhouser said that community support has paid for all their expenses so far. “Foundations, clubs and area businesses have supported us this year,” she said.
With the challenges have also come incredible rewards though. “On the bright side,” said Frankhouser, “every young lady has learned life skills, structure, boundaries, how to manage a schedule, and how to have a praying relationship with God. They have as many community resources as possible, and they are enrolled in school if they weren’t already. This program is not for everybody, but for those that are want or need help, this program can change their lives.”
Janzen has found volunteering at Guiding Light a remarkable experience. “It is so rewarding to see the girls progress,” she said. “I plan on being here forever.”
What: Guiding Light open house
When: 2 to 5 p.m. March 29
Where: 592 S. Main St., Lima
For details visit its Facebook page, Guiding Light.