The faith-based Alpha-Omega was founded in 1997 in a single home that provided safe shelter for seven women and their babies. At the time, founder Lisa Franklin, herself a former teenage mother, had “very little money or staff or a formal plan,” according to the nonprofit’s website.
But Alpha-Omega has grown to 24 transitional and permanent supportive housing units and programming that care for about 87 women and children annually. In 2009 permanent supportive housing was added for homeless senior women and other homeless individuals and families. Services include case management, counseling and financial literacy and life skills classes.
In addition, Alpha-Omega runs a community diaper bank, a foster-family program for parents in crisis and a back-to-school shoes and socks initiative. Money from two thrift stores — one in St. Augustine, the other recently opened in Jacksonville — help support the nonprofit.
From the start, Franklin envisioned a larger campus that would be a model to be duplicated in other cities. Current plans call for an $8.5 million permanent campus with expanded transitional housing and family counseling and daycare centers. The project would be built in phases — the first would cost about $2.5 million — on a 7-acre tract off Florida 16 at Collins Avenue, near the St. Augustine campus of St. Johns River State College and First Coast Technical College.
The goal is for the new campus to be completed in 2019, according to development director Linda Phillips.
Meanwhile in the existing facilities women are transformed “from brokenness to become stable, independent women,” Jackson said.
“It is great when we see them becoming self-supportive and have good jobs, but it is most exciting when we see them grow in the faith in the Lord and walk with him,” she said. “Although we never push God on our residents, it is exciting to see how much strength they gain from the Lord and see how much they can accomplish when they put their hope in him.”
Case manager Ashley Whitfield agreed.
“It is an amazing experience to see how far they have come even through rough times. They grow and learn with their children. They grow deeper in their connection with Christ and with their children,” she said.
Madancy and Rachel, who asked that their last names not be used, are among Alpha-Omega’s success stories.
Both women were raising children alone and fearful of the future when they were referred to the nonprofit.
In 2015 Madancy had one child and was expecting another. The father was not in the picture, and she was living in a maternity home in Naples and uncertain what to do next. She grew up in foster care and had no idea what a strong support system looked like.
“I was scared, lost and alone. I had no hope,” she said. “I had the world … against me, telling me I was not going to make it.”
Madancy not only needed employment and housing after the new baby was born, but help handling the one she already had: Her son was later diagnosed with autism and ADHD.
“We were going from home to home, friend to friend, family to family,” she said. “I needed someone willing to almost co-parent with me, help me get to the right areas to get help with him.”
After her daughter was born, another medical problem arose. The baby had sleep apnea — she stopped breathing while sleeping and had to be hooked up to a monitor — though she has since outgrown the condition.
“I really needed help with my children,” Madancy said. “I needed … support.”
At Alpha-Omega, she got help setting up and getting to doctor’s appointments for the children, as well as budgeting classes and other help developing the life skills she needed to succeed. She gradually built up her confidence.
“Knowing I can do this … it was life-altering,” she said. “They changed the entire course of my life.”
Rachel had two children and was expecting a third, from an on-and-off relationship with the kids’ father, when she was referred to Alpha-Omega. Her oldest child, born when she was 18, lived with Rachel’s brother for a time; she ultimately allowed her second child to be adopted.
She said her lifestyle was not the “most conducive” for raising children.
Rachel said she had found God shortly before her third child was born. She wanted to do better by her new baby than she had for her first two children.
“He put the desire in my heart,” she said. “I wanted to be a mom, I was ready to be a mom.”
At Alpha-Omega she learned about the standards that she should meet to raise a child and to have a successful life on her own. Now 28, she has an associate’s degree and a job and hard-won parenting skills.
“It was a challenge. I was breaking a pattern of past behavior, a pattern of thinking,” she said. “They provide it all to put me in the position where I am able, without shame, to be a single mother.”
Like Madancy, she is a volunteer mentor and driver at Alpha-Omega. And like Madancy, she encourages the new ranks of young women there and reminds them that personal transformation takes hard work.
“I give God all the glory,” she said. “I got it together.”
Beth Reese Cravey: (904) 359-4109