Friday, July 17, 2009

Mercy Ministries helps young women regain balance

Residential program presses onward amid slumping economy

By Harriet Vaughan • THE TENNESSEAN • July 17, 2009

BRENTWOOD — A recent $500 donation from the Rotary Club of Brentwood is a big deal for Mercy Ministries, where every penny counts.

The residential relief program that provides assistance to young women does not accept federal or state funding. It relies on donations to provide hope and relief to girls ages 13-28 suffering from addictions, depression, physical and sexual abuse, eating disorders, self-harm and unplanned pregnancy.

Mercy Ministries, a nationwide residential program with its only Tennessee presence in Brentwood, offers young women a free place to stay for an average of six months, free assistance with prenatal appointments, counseling, academic studies and tutoring, clothes and many more services.

The $500 will be used to follow up with and assist the teens and young women after they've graduated from the six-month program. Christy Singleton, executive director of development, says it's a crucial donation at a critical point in time.

"Some contributors have had to stop making donations but have called and apologized for not giving. Others have stepped up to help due to the economic times," Singleton said.

She says Mercy Ministries has been fortunate to stay in the black.

Former client is staffer

Young women such as Kathryne Coonce have benefited from the spiritually based program. Coonce, born and raised in Franklin, came to Mercy when she was 18 after she became pregnant during her freshman year at the College of Charleston in South Carolina.

Coonce also was carrying the heavy weight of depression after the death of a close friend. She says she sought comfort in the relationship with her boyfriend.

"I was scared to death like any 18-year-old would be. I was scared what my consequence would be from my parents. It's amazing how God can turn around something that is so scary and horrible," Coonce said.

She heard about Mercy from her mother and moved into the 40-bed facility, reminiscent of a college dorm with a staff that seems to always have a smile and soothing voice. She decided to put her child up for adoption through Mercy's adoption program. They have been doing private adoptions at the center since opening in 1996. The pregnant mothers are able to have a hand in selecting the people who adopt their children.

Coonce credits the adoption program, peers who understood her struggle, counselors on hand 24 hours a day, a support system built for success and a center focused on the story of God for the reason she is able to call herself a complete and healthy person.

Since her 2001 arrival at Mercy, Coonce has graduated from college with a degree in psychology. She now works at Mercy.

From failure to family

Annie McBride came to the program in 2005, when she was 18. She was pregnant, hopeless, had a history of smoking marijuana and drinking frequently. Her parents divorced when she was in third grade. She was left to cope with a difficult and lengthy custody battle along with alcoholism and depression in her family. She says she internalized all of her emotions and developed a great sense of failure. She did what she could to numb the pain. Though deep in despair, she was finally ready for a change. She came to Mercy as a last-ditch effort to turn over her life.

Among the exercises and activities that help these teens and women battle their problems, Mercy residents plan menus for the week, and a group of them will prepare the meals for the dorm. They focus on organic and healthy foods.

Singleton says activities such as these help them learn balance, gain self-esteem and develop respect for their bodies.

It worked for McBride. She began eating healthy, feeling healthy and thinking healthy thoughts about herself. She opted to keep her son, Grey, who is now 4. Gray's father went through a similar program. The two recently celebrated their third anniversary the beginning of July. They also have a second child, 20-month-old Lucy. McBride works at a preschool. Her husband, Matthew McBride, is working at Starbucks while going to school to become a nurse practitioner — a long way from where the once hopeless teens came from.

"I believe that the Lord used Mercy to heal my pain from the past and to restore my broken relationships," Annie McBride said. "Because of Mercy, I have freedom from my past."