By DEB ENRIGHT
Understanding. Transformation. Freedom. Potential. Prison. Decisions. Addiction. Redemption. Stacey. Friendship. Olivia. Healing Housing. Tenacity.
These words knit together the story of Olivia Mullin, Founder and Executive Director of Williamson County’s only transitional housing for women in recovery from addiction, Healing Housing. https://www.healinghousing.org/
This story of transformation starts when Olivia was volunteering for a women’s prison ministry.
“Before, I was a check writer’, she starts. “I did a variety of things in my career including nursing. I didn’t find time to volunteer. I never learned the story behind the work of the organization. I was disconnected.”
She continues, “I volunteered for a program called Better Decisions that pairs a volunteer with a woman inmate for 8 weeks to complete a curriculum about decision making. The second woman I was paired with changed everything for me. Here name is Stacey.
As Stacey and I shared our lives with each other, I began to understand these women were survivors of a chaos I had never known with incredible potential to be successful”. Olivia stops, looks directly at me and says, “I found myself face to face with a woman I had once judged negatively out of ignorance”.
Stacey had been sexually abused as a child. She turned to drugs to escape. She ushered in her teenage years on the street as an addict. Her life deteriorated from there.
Their relationship grew, “I loved meeting with her. I had never felt so free. Free from expectations and outcomes. Free from hiding that I was not perfect and had also made some bad decisions in my life. We gave each other strength and friendship to just be ourselves for those moments together. So, I asked myself, what is the difference between the two of us except circumstances?”
Olivia saw a determination in Stacey to turn her life around. “It gnawed at me’, Olivia says, ‘How could Stacey get a job with a criminal record and no network to support her? And what was I doing on the sidelines when she needed me?”
Olivia wanted to provide a place for women like Stacey that was safe and judgment free to build a network of support and become a part of a community learning how to live a healthy life with access to counseling.
Olivia reasoned, “We all get second chances in our lives, don’t we? These women deserve one just as much for what they have been through. “
She traveled to transitional sites around the country, talked with people, created an organization, raised money, hired a staff and found two homes this past New Year’s Day in the middle of Williamson County to realize her vision. Her friends worked tirelessly to furnish the homes with donated items. They could now serve 14 women in transition.
Applicants must be sober for 30 days, without financial resources, and graduated from a treatment program assigned through a court order or family intervention. The 14 spaces were quickly filled.
Residents are required to meet with a counselor once a week, secure full-time employment, and attend multiple AA meetings throughout their stay.
Each woman is charged a weekly fee of $125.00 to stay at the residence. Healing Housing deposits $75.00 of that fee into a savings account created for each resident. “For some, Olivia says, ‘this is the very first time they have ever had their own money.” Lessons on budgeting are offered to residents.
“Obviously’, Olivia smiles, ‘I am also learning about fundraising. I am grateful. The community has been involved and generous, but with a goal to expand, I have to find more resources and tell our story to more people.”
Healing Housing will do that on October 16 for their first ever Golf Tournament at Brentwood Country Club. Sponsorships are available. Golfers are still needed to finish building out the foursomes. This link provides tournament information and registration: https://secure.perfectgolfevent.com/eventweb/3986/
“We know that a first event of any kind demands a lot of work to be successful’, says Olivia. ‘There isn’t a harder working committee around than the one I am blessed with for this event. We need the community to join us to have a fun day of golf and help our determined residents get their second chance.”
I asked her what she had learned along this journey as we wrapped up our conversation. She tells me that there is a real need for Healing Housing. Their waitlist is growing with women from all over Tennessee seeking a space. Then, she took a moment as if finding herself once again face to face with Stacey in the Nashville prison and said, “That you are never too old to have your life transformed and do good for someone you once knew nothing about.”