On Sunday mornings, former prostitutes and drug addicts fill the pews alongside Vanderbilt faculty, staff and students for services at St. Augustine’s Chapel. They share their stories and take communion together, finding commonalities in what some would think are very different worlds.
It’s part of the healing for the women of Magdalene, a two-year residential program that helps women get off Nashville’s streets, off illegal drugs, and out of the cycle of abuse.
Magdalene is the brainchild of Becca Stevens, an Episcopal priest and chaplain of St. Augustine’s. The program includes housing, counseling, 12-step meetings, classes on parenting and financial management, spiritual guidance and employment opportunities. In its first 10 years, more than 100 women have successfully completed the Magdalene program. All have a criminal record. Thirty percent are HIV-positive or Hepatitis C-positive. All have endured rape, and most have a history of childhood sexual abuse. Of those who enter Magdalene, two and a half years later 75 percent are still clean and sober.
Magdalene sustains itself through private donations and through Thistle Farms, a cottage industry that produces bath and body products and candles. All aspects of the business are handled almost exclusively by the women of Magdalene.
“It isn’t about making people feel sorry for these women,” Stevens says. “It’s about inspiring others to make changes in their own lives.”
Find out more: www.thistlefarms.org.
© 2014 Vanderbilt University
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