The Harbor Home: A safe harbor for women

Harbor Girls and Lauralise Shaddock, program director.

by Carolyn Ishee

For the 10 women who are residents of The Harbor Home, a safe harbor is exactly what they have found in Central Arkansas.

The Harbor Home was established in August 2015 as a residential community that provides training and assistance to women whose lives are in crisis due to addiction issues or behavioral or lifestyle struggles. It is located just outside the Conway city limits off of Highway 64.

As executive director Dana Davin-Ward says, the story of Harbor Home is “nothing short of inspirational.”

The facility is housed in the former Servants Chapel General Baptist Church. The congregation membership was declining — 13 regular members and all over the age of 65 — and the members had tried to reach out to the community to assist, but the church’s size and resources, even with the debt-free property, limited the work it could do. But they were not deterred.

Membership wanted to leave a legacy. The church had been in existence for 30 years, and so they continued praying that there would be a way to have the legacy established.

During this, Dana was praying to find a way to have a place where women could be helped to get to the root of their problems. “The drugs and the alcohol are not the problem,” she said. “They are helping mask the problem.” So she was searching for a way to have a place that could help the women with those issues.

The church membership turned to its pastor, Larry Ward, who also happens to be Dana’s husband. Through prayer and discussion, they realized that they could take the building and the property and make it a “bustling, thriving home.” According to Dana, “there is never a dull moment around here.”

The residents arrive in a variety of ways. Some are there on court order. Some have family that bring them and others just “show up on our doorstep.”

The former church sanctuary is now the living room and kitchen area, and the former Sunday School rooms are now bedrooms for the residents.

Two of the rooms have multiple sets of bunk beds, and a third bedroom is set up for two residents when they reach “senior” status or are about to graduate from the program.

Harbor Home currently houses 10 residents, but a recently donated 16-by-80-foot mobile home from Centennial Bank will allow for five to 10 more beds once the mobile home is renovated.

This will give Harbor Home the ability to help 15 women coming off of drugs and/or alcohol as five to 10 women complete Phase 1 and enter into Phase 2 of the program. Some of the residents will return to good, solid families. Some have no families at all and will remain at Harbor Home where Rev. Larry is known as “Pappa Bear” and Dana is “Mamma D.”

There is a sense of peace and calm in the hallways of the facility. Scripture verses and positive quotations/sayings are on the wall, such as “Change Your Mind, Change Your Life.” Many of the residents are mothers, and drawings from their children are in the hallway. Friends and/or families take care of children of residents while they are in the program.

The former members of Servants Chapel are still closely involved with Harbor Home. A group of women, many from the former congregation, meet at the Home on a regular basis to do quilting. They make quilts, inscribed with Biblical scriptures, and the quilts are to be given to residents as they complete the program. The bond between the younger women and the “grandmas” is very beneficial to everyone.

Dana, the author of “Living Isaiah 30:18”, (a book about “learning to wait well”) has an active women’s prison ministry she began prior to the Home opening, and it is through those connections that she and other ministry participants created the program at Harbor Home.

The program’s goal is for the women to “transition successfully into the world.” It is a six- to nine-month program that has a set curriculum and schedule. Each day begins with a worship service at 9 a.m. (the women make up the worship team and love singing) followed by morning classes.

Afternoons are work detail, whether that is around the facility or out in the community. Residents complete community service hours as the Harbor Handy Helpers and are available for house cleaning, yard work or whatever needs to be accomplished.

The women also have time for one-on-one counseling sessions on Wednesdays with volunteer licensed drug and alcohol counselors. Volunteer business professionals, along with the counselors, comprise the advisory board that oversees the work.

Two non-profit organizations are affiliated with the Home — Isaiah 30:18 Ministries and Servants Ministries, which is the property owner. Both are Christ-centered, Biblically based non-profit organizations whose sole purpose is to assist individuals who find their lives in crisis.

According to Dana, financial assistance is the No. 1 need of The Harbor Home. This could include financial donations for utilities, to purchase toiletries and other items for the residents, or gift cards. Dana says the organization also needs employers who are willing to give the women a chance in a work environment that is “healthy.” Dana would also love to have a volunteer to keep the home’s website updated. Anyone interested in supporting the home can contact Dana at 501.499.8622.

The work of The Harbor Home is to help women make a successful transition. But, for Dana, it is more personal. She wants to do more than “just tell them that God loves them . . . I wanted to show them in a practical way.”

And there are successes. Angela, the first of two graduates, is now employed at her first job; Robin has also graduated. Four more will be graduating in April.