LIMA — Over the last five years, Julianne Burk has seen 500 women come and go at Guiding Light Ministries. They walk through the front door in crisis — pregnant, homeless, or a victim of sexual trafficking.
By the time they leave, these women have regained employment and transportation. Most importantly, they know where to turn if crisis should visit again.
Guiding Light Ministries is celebrating its five-year anniversary this October. Started by Burk after she was inspired by God, the nonprofit has since grown from an idea to an organization able to house and support at least 10 women working through crisis.
Burke said the success of Guiding Light is due to its holistic approach. While many halfway homes offer shelter, they may not be able to point the homeless in the right direction due to barriers against employment or housing. In comparison, Guiding Light centers its philosophy around Christian values, and women are asked to seek God’s favor to help them back on their feet.
On a typical day, women show up at the shelter’s kitchen table by 8 a.m. and they discuss their tasks for the day with a case worker, who may point out some countywide social support programs. But even then, it is the women’s responsibility to lay out their road map to success and to set goals. Asking the women to be the decision-makers helps build confidence and gives them a schedule, which creates a more stable life.
The tactic works, and local government agencies have noticed. Despite some outside concerns about the nonprofit’s religious approach, Burk said the nonprofit gets plenty of referrals from agencies working with the homeless population.
The women and children who arrive at the shelter may already been involved in other social safety net programs, or are leaving the government’s care after a stay in prison. Sometimes, women who arrive have never had a mother to show them how to run a household or teach their children.
But over time, Guiding Light helps women of all ages discuss such difficulties with others who may have dealt with the same experiences. Life skills classes are also offered, and sometimes, the group might head out on the weekend for a field trip at one of Ohio’s attractions. Meanwhile, social workers keep the house bug and drug free.
Eventually, if a woman commits to the change with a positive mindset, Guiding Light can help bring them back to self-sufficiency. Burk calls the work “investing in people.”
Those that fall back into crisis fail because of the bad attitude.
“If they hit rock bottom, they can walk into a place like this and say, ‘Thank you,’” Burk said.
Men are prohibited from staying at the house, Burk said, because they can often be a distraction for women working toward stability. As is often the case, significant others can enable bad behavior. And while a couple may dream of a stable future, they often don’t have a penny between them. It causes problems, and so Guiding Light lets other shelters deal with men in order to better teach self-reliance.
In the future, Burk is considering to expand the Guiding Light Ministries method into different cities.
The nonprofit already gets a few guests from outside Lima. One such woman came from Georgia to follow a boyfriend, and Guiding Light helped her buy a bus ticket to send her back to her family support system.
“Whatever they need, we try to offer it,” Lillian Jones, volunteer coordinator, said.
Guiding Light is holding an “Evening of Inspiration” event from 6 to 8 p.m. Thursday at Forest Park United Methodist Church, 315 S. Collins Ave. The event will feature a dinner and inspirational stories from women who have graduated from Guiding Light Ministries. Tickets, available at the door, cost $50.
Those interested in volunteering for Guiding Light can contact Volunteer Coordinator Lillian Jones at 419-615-5653.
Reach Josh Ellerbrock at 567-242-0398.