There's a sign outside the Sojourner's Journey residential home in Sparta, Wisconsin, with these words: A temporary stop to a forever home.
Those simple words offer a glimpse into life at Sojourner's – a place for women struggling with substance use and homeless mothers and their children to call home.
Thrivent members and Sparta residents, John and Kristi Budin, are passionate about supporting their local community and, in particular, the work being done at Sojourner's Journey.
In 2014, they nominated Sojourner's Journey to be eligible for Thrivent Choice® and have continued to designate a portion of their Choice Dollars to the organization every year since.
"We like supporting a small program like this," says John. "By supporting Sojourner's Journey, we know it's going to make a noticeable difference in the community."
"In May 2014 my life was turned upside down and I didn't know where to turn. I met with my pastor, and he referred me to Sojourner's Journey."
And it has made a tangible difference. Consider the experience of one resident named Jessica.
"In May 2014 my life was turned upside down and I didn't know where to turn," she says. "I met with my pastor, and he referred me to Sojourner's Journey. I was a single mom of four girls needing a safe place to live. I moved into Sojourner's and received spiritual guidance through Bible study, a mentorship program, conflict management and a financial class. Being at Sojourner's allowed me to grow spiritually, feel safe and spend time with my daughters."
A change of heart
In 2009 Katie Bennett founded Sojourner's Journey when she recognized the need for an emergency shelter for women in the local community.
"I was one of those people who had preconceived notions of poverty, welfare, homelessness and teen pregnancy," Katie notes. "I judged them, separated myself from them and even ignored they existed. But God softened my heart, and allowed me to see the deeper complexities of a cycle that so desperately need to be broken: Poor choices leading to fatherless children, uneducated mothers without stable incomes and children left in shattered, broken homes."
Today Sojourner's Journey is a nondenominational nonprofit offering full-time housing and support to two residential families at a time.
It also provides recovery support groups, Bible studies, financial classes, and counseling and mentoring programs, along with life skills training for nonresidents.
Katie and her team have learned they can't fully help and equip women to be successful without addressing substance abuse and its impacts on family members.
"We want to meet people where they are at, work with them to recognize their value as a child of God, and invite them into a future of hope and purpose," says Katie. "There aren't words to explain what it's like to see mothers reunited with their children. Not only have you helped a mother, but you've also changed the path of her children."
Generosity takes numerous forms
Sparta community members volunteer in countless ways through mentoring women, leading classes and groups, fundraising and helping with childcare.
And not only have John and Kristi designated their Choice Dollars® to go to Sojourner's Journey, they've also hosted multiple Thrivent Action Team events to support the organization:
- In 2015, they used Thrivent Action Team seed money to purchase supplies for Sparta's annual Wild West Carnival which benefits Sojourner's Journey.
- In 2015, they partnered with a local movie theater to raise funds for Sojourner's Journey. Their Thrivent Action Team rented out the theater on a Saturday morning, offered low-price tickets and raised more than $2,000.
- In October 2016, they hosted another Thrivent Action Team at a women's conference with the purpose of collecting paper products and cleaning supplies for the Sojourner's home.
"These events raise money and awareness for Sojourner's," says Kristi. "We are all in this community together. It makes our hearts happy to know we are helping neighbors and lifting each other up."
Kristi recognizes the value of this unique partnership: "Having John and Kristi as committed supporters, volunteers and prayer partners is a rarity. I can't put to words how precious of a gift that is."
For residents such as Jessica and others who have called Sojourner's home, the support and care from their local community is truly empowering them to become confident, self-sufficient women with hope for the future – and for their own safe place to call home.
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