Rebuilding Lives, One Story at a Time
By Kara Isham | Photos courtesy of Magdalene Serenity House
For women who have experienced trauma, sexual exploitation, addiction and incarceration, finding a safe place to rebuild their lives can be a daunting task. Thankfully, some of these women have found Magdalene Serenity House in Fayetteville, a comprehensive, collaborative and structured residential program that helps them break the cycle of poverty, addiction, and incarceration and transition back into the community as contributing members.
MSH is unique in that it is a long-term and completely free program dedicated to women with felony convictions who are willing to commit to changing their lives for the better, says Executive Director April Bachrodt. Women can stay up to two years.
“Our women do extremely well here at Magdalene Serenity House,” Bachrodt says. “Our goal is to help them rebuild their lives in every aspect — mental health, substance abuse recovery, overcoming trauma, cleaning up their past, learning how to save money, making goals, getting jobs and much more.”
MSH opened its doors to its first residents in September 2017, and Bachrodt says the need for the program is great, with the organization receiving calls daily from women all over Arkansas. “These women come to us with nothing but the clothes on their back,” she says.
Sophia Dugwyler, Magdalene Serenity House's first graduate and current peer recovery specialist
Along with providing food, shelter and clothing, MSH also helps residents attain essential documents like identification or driver’s licenses and assess what fines, fees, or warrants they may still have. The program helps the residents clean up their past so they can breathe easier and move on to their future.
MSH offers a variety of programs designed to give these women a real shot at rejoining society. Many women come to MSH with underlying health issues, so MSH staff members work with physicians and dental care professionals to address their needs. Therapists are also utilized in order to treat the causes of their addictions.
As hard as these women work to improve their lives and their future, Bachrodt says one area where they may struggle is finding safe and affordable housing once they complete the MSH program. Many do not have the option of living with family and — in an effort to remain clean and away from old habits — do not want to return to former neighborhoods. They also have felony records, which could keep them from being approved for certain rental units. The rental units they can be approved for are often in unsafe neighborhoods.
For that reason, the MSH organization took a leap of faith in December 2020 and purchased a home adjacent to its property which, once remodeled, can house up to four program graduates at a time.
“They have spent two years completely rebuilding their lives and learning a new way of life; we are not just going to send them back where they came from,” Bachrodt says.
The aftercare home will provide a safe and affordable place to stay while the women work on building upon the life skills they have been taught at MSH, repairing their credit and building a rental history. Residents at the aftercare home can still meet with MSH staff regularly and receive support while living completely independently. Graduates will be allowed to stay in the aftercare home for up to one year.
As one of the first residents at MSH and the first graduate from the program, Sophia Dugwyler can attest to the life-changing help the residents receive. Dugwyler now works as a peer recovery specialist with MSH and is one of the first people new residents meet. She helps them assess their immediate needs and plan their goals for the first 90 days of the program, as well as provides them with one-on-one recovery activities.
She says MSH is a program centered in community and provides the women with a beautiful space in which to live and attend needed programs. “We don’t have a facility, we have a home,” she says.
Dugwyler has enjoyed seeing the residents evolve and has seen firsthand that women have different pathways to recovery, she says.
“There is this stigma around people who have lived though addiction and those who have been convicted of criminal charges,” Dugwyler says. “I think a lot of people who are familiar with those challenges often don’t get to see people recover. But we are breaking cycles over here.”
MSH could not have the impact it has without the continuous support of the community, she says. The program survives with the help of partnerships, monetary donations, and donations of needed goods and supplies.
MSH is well worth the investment, Dugwyler says.
“The ladies over here are overcoming the odds every day with every little thing they do,” Dugwyler says. “Every day they are building toward recovery, and it’s beautiful.”
To learn more about Magdalene Serenity House, visit www.lovehealsnwa.org.