Shelter guides women from difficult pasts to new paths

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Look to their eyes, Karen Childress says.

The house director at Rahab’s Retreat has seen firsthand the change in the women that arrive at the shelter: time and love erase the dullness in their eyes and fills them with light and life.

She’s witnessed them at their lowest, escaping the sex trade, drug addiction and other struggles that weigh them down. She’s seen them broken, at their lowest.

“Whatever brought them there, they don’t have to stay there,” Childress said. “There is definitely a way out.”

For a score of women in Kilgore, Rahab’s Retreat is shining a light to another path: one of redemption, restoration, recovery and renewal.

The Stone Road shelter’s residents and staffers joined supporters, well-wishers and donors Monday night for a celebratory fundraiser in Kilgore College’s Devall Student Center Ballroom, spotlighting the progress women have made in their months at the home.

“Lives have been changed,” said Teresa Richenberger, founder and director, a fellow survivor. “Everyone gets to see what God has done.”

Guests were greeted Monday by a table laden with the fruits of the residents’ labors: the Rahab’s arts and crafts program began about eight months ago, resident Jessica Wimpee said, with a local supporter donating her time and skill to kick-start a jewelry-making program for the women.

Their combined efforts glittered brightly in the ballroom this week, a wide array of necklaces and other accessories, some soon adorning the necks of guests.

“All of this was made by the residents at Rahab,” Wimpee said, “just to give them something to do and to make extra money.”

Following music by resident singers and others, a handful of residents offered their testimonies in a video. Tiffany Baker took the podium to tell her story in person.

“I had a longtime drug addiction,” she said. “My life was just out of control.”

Baker described how she lost custody of her daughter and how she became estranged from her parents in the midst of her struggle.

Her time at the Stone Road shelter has been life-changing.

Kicking the drug habit, “Since I’ve been there I’ve regained full custody of my daughter,” Baker said, and repaired her relationship with her parents.

She’s working now while studying nursing, taking strength from the love and commitment of the people at Rahab’s.

“The moral support is everything,” Baker said, as is the atmosphere of moving forward and working toward a better life, “The principles and values that they’re sharing with us.”

Richenberger comes from the same difficult background as the residents at Rahab’s Retreat, said longtime supporter and volunteer Robin Fisher.

“She knows where these girls have been. She knows when to be tough and when to be loving and what it takes to make it happen,” Fisher said. “She has such great faith in God and has made miracle after miracle after miracle.

“It shows them that they’re worth something, rather than just physical.”

The women at Rahab’s are just like any others, Baker added.

“We just have different pasts,” she said. “We’re very strong, overcoming women,” finding an embrace and encouragement at the shelter.

“The mission is to empower those who don’t know they have any other way.”

A second fundraiser is set from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. Monday at the Summit Club in Longview. Tickets are $25 person, once again including dinner, entertainment and the opportunity to hear from Rahab’s residents.

For more information or to purchase tickets to the March 5 fundraiser, log on to RahabsRetreatAndRanch.com or contact the facility at 903-218-4985.

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