At Magnolia House Ministries, families have hotel-style rooms. Contributed photo. Magnolia House Ministries
At Magnolia House Ministries, families have hotel-style rooms. Contributed photo.

A Southside mom helps other mothers in need.

DANVILLE – If you’re a parent, you’ve felt it before. The exhaustion, the anxiety, the worry that comes along with raising a decent human being. Pile putting food on the table, keeping the rent paid and pumping gas in the car on top of that and parenthood can be overwhelming.

Sure, we signed up for this when we had our kids. But no one told us the Instagram picture perfect world of motherhood, fatherhood and childhood only existed on social media or on television or seemingly for other people.

Throw in an absent dad and that’s life for 23% of American families, according to an America’s Families and Living Arrangements study published in 2016. The same study revealed that 4% of children under 18 live with single fathers.

A helpful heart

Raising children as a single parent isn’t impossible, but it is oftentimes hard. Carrie Cottrill experienced the issue years ago – but she wasn’t the single mother.

“Both my husband and I are from split homes,” Cottrill said. “We were raised by our mothers, so that played into it.”

When the Cottrills decided to foster children in the early 2010s, they met two kids from a single parent home. They fell in love with the children, whom they eventually adopted. In the process, Cottrill also connected with the children’s biological mother, who unfortunately experienced difficulty demonstrating self-sufficiency.

“Working with their mom, we saw a greater need for just the moms to be able to have an opportunity to get on their feet. She really struggled in a lot of areas,” Cottrill said. “Through foster care, they just don’t give you very much access, I guess, to be able to really work with the moms. They really are wanting them to do the work, but we had really good case workers in the beginning, which really allowed us to work with her.”

The Cottrills experience with their kids’ birth mother opened their eyes to a vastly unmet need. Thus sparked an idea. Cottrill began dreaming up a home for single mothers, which would keep families together while helping the matriarch become self-sufficient.

“So that’s really where the ministry was born and the vision of the ministry, which was about eight years ago,” Cottrill said.

The Cottrill family moved to the Durham, North Carolina, area, and the mother founded Magnolia House Ministries in 2017. It’s a nonprofit organization that helps single mothers get back on their feet in 24 months or less.

In 2018, she and her husband expanded the ministry into the Danville area, where it’s currently headquartered.

A leg up

Rather than offering single mothers a handout, Magnolia House Ministries lends a leg up.

Once a woman applies, interviews and accepts entry into one of the four rooms in the facility, Cottrill and the mother draw up a game plan.

“The main thing that we offer is obviously housing. We give them a temporary place to stay,” Cottrill said. “How we’re based is they can stay here for up to a year if they’re working and up to two years if they are pursuing school or a degree or even a certification.”

Magnolia House Ministries also connects mothers with assistance in other difficult areas, such as counseling, budgeting and parenting.

“We also provide them with a case plan for goals and we help them walk through their goals with them and what they want to accomplish whenever they’re here,” Cottrill said.

The helpful hand doesn’t end there. Cottrill said the ministry’s helped mothers learn to drive, apply for jobs and gain reliable transportation.

“Each mom comes in at a very different place. Some of them are a little bit further along, which is why their case plan is typically shorter,” Cottrill said. “Some of them, you know, really need a year to two years to accomplish what they have.”

Debt is one of the first areas Cottrill helps ladies tackle.

“Kind of undoing the mess that some of them have created themselves, but most of the time it will be the man that they’re involved with,” Cottrill said. “That’s one of the things we work closely on, is trying to get their credit and their debt into a better place so that whenever they transition out, they’re in a good, stable place to be able to manage their household better.”

Seeking a better life

There isn’t a set checklist of eligibility requirements, other than the occupants of the room must be a single mom and her kids that are down on their luck.

Other programs exist for those struggling with substance abuse or addiction, as do places for individuals experiencing domestic violence situations. Cottrill hoped to offer a safe place for people not necessarily fitting in the scope of other pre-established local organizations.

“We really wanted to help the moms that couldn’t find a place to go other than maybe a homeless shelter, but they needed more hands-on help, maybe counseling and things like that,” Cottrill said.

The director noted that Magnolia House Ministries accepted applicants on a case-by-case basis.

“Our facility, right now, holds four families. It has four rooms, pretty much like hotel rooms. They have their own private bath. So we have four families at a time,” Cottrill said. “They can stay up to a year to two years. Most of our families transition out between a year and about a year and six months. I don’t believe we’ve had any stay for the full two years. This past year, so far we have had eight families.”

The expedited turnaround for some occupants comes not only from the program’s assistance, but also the family’s particular circumstances.

“Some have a shorter goal list, so some transition out in three to six months, just depending on how long it takes them,” Cottrill said. “Some of them are a little heavier in debt and it takes a bit longer to clean that up. Some come that have never worked before, never driven. We’ve had them all over the spectrum.”

COVID connotations

Thankfully, the coronavirus threat didn’t impact the families already living in the ministry’s facility. Three families already resided in the space in March, and only one family joined the group since the pandemic started.

Cottrill noted that families housed in the facility follow Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines. There have been no COVID-19 outbreaks at Magnolia House Ministries.

Unfortunately, the virus did impact some of the occupants – but not because they got sick.

“As far as their progress, that has been another story. As with everyone else, it has slowed down everything because the kids got pulled from school that are school age, so the moms kind of paused their working or school or whatever they were working on to make sure that their kids were being educated and getting what they needed,” Cottrill said. “But I feel like that we are hopefully past that point and everything’s starting to get back to normal and back on the goals that they’ve been trying to meet.”

How to help

While Magnolia House Ministries meets some of the mothers’ major needs, basic familial needs still arise from time to time.

Things like laundry detergent, dishwashing detergent, paper towels, toilet paper, hygiene items and cleaning supplies aren’t things people can purchase with SNAP benefits. Sometimes, money runs too thin to purchase some of life’s most practical items.

For those interested in helping families housed at Magnolia House Ministries, donations are welcome.

There’s also a need for financial donations.

“Through our website, there are ways to donate monthly, quarterly, yearly, however they would like to support financially,” Cottrill said.

All monetary donations go either directly to the families or to the facility needs.

The director also expressed that gift cards for the mothers help in financially stretched situations.

“A lot of them come with just the clothes on their back, literally, and their children. A lot of times just to get them started with clothing and things like that, that is an area we really try to help them out with,” Cottrill said.

For those interested in learning more about Magnolia House Ministries or donating to the organization, visit the nonprofit’s website at www.magnoliahouseministries.org

Amie Knowles reports for The Dogwood. She can be reached at amie@couriernewsroom.com