Lydia's House is a 2007, 2008, 2011, 2016, 2017, 2018, and 2019 SOS grantee. We interviewed Karen T. Kirk, chief executive officer of Lydia’s House, to learn more about how the organization continues to grow and evolve and serve the community with the help of our grants. We hope you are as inspired by Ms. Kirk’s words as we are.
(Note: Some answers have been edited for clarity and length.)
How would you describe your organization’s mission, in one or a few sentences?
Lydia’s House provides safe, confidentially located, transitional housing for women and children who are victims of domestic violence. We work in faith to end domestic violence by being a place of healing and a voice of hope for abused women and their children.
Briefly discuss your organization’s history in the community.
In 1994, four women who were united by their faith and a desire to help others felt a calling to provide housing and support services to abused women and their children. This desire only grew when they realized there was a gap in services available at the time. While there were four emergency shelters in the area, which offered support for up to 90 day periods, there was nothing that could provide longer term transitional assistance to help women get back on the path toward independent, violence-free lives.
Lydia’s House purchased its first two family building in 1995, serving just two survivors. Since then, the organization has delivered essential services to more than 1000 women and their children, and provided more than 475,000 safe bed nights.
Now in 2019, Lydia’s House serves 50 women and up to 85 children at one time. It is one of the longest established and largest transitional housing programs in the country.
The organization has also added an in-house medical clinic as well as pet friendly apartments, so that women and their children don’t have to leave their cherished pets behind during challenging times.
What changes or new developments are in store for the coming year, and how will SOS funding assist in these endeavors?
We have exciting plans for Lydia’s Ladle, which continues our mission by providing job opportunities, employment, job education and training to our residents through the business of making and selling chicken pot pies and berry pies.
After receiving its first multi-year grant from SOS, Lydia’s House was able to operate the Ladle at a new level, with more stability and greater opportunities for growth. We are now looking forward to a new venture in 2020, as we partner with Fox River Dairy to place our products in more stores around the region, and eventually, into other cities.
This effort is unique in that our products help carry information and resources to victims who have not yet left their abuser and need help. Thanks to SOS, this new venture will spread the word of resources to even more victims of domestic violence, in a larger area.
Meanwhile, the women of Lydia’s House will continue to feel empowered by learning from some of the best in the culinary business, gaining the skills they need for financial independence, and also gaining confidence to take back that which had been lost in the violence.
What are your current goals as an organization and/or in what areas would you like to grow?
Lydia’s House plans to continue to bridge that critical gap between the short stay of shelter and the need for safe, independent living. Lydia’s House gives women up to two years of programs and resources necessary to lead an independent life free from their abuser.
Tell us something about your organization and the work you do that might surprise us.
Lydia’s House, in partnership with Purina, has become the first stand-alone transitional housing provider to create pet friendly spaces so that domestic violence victims and their children do not have to leave a violent home without their pet or pets.
Give us an example of someone who has been personally touched by your organization, perhaps in a life-changing way.
After leaving a domestic violence situation, Jill couch surfed for many years as she searched for a place where she and her beloved pet could stay together and build a new life. Jill was not about to leave her dog Scarlett behind. Scarlett was all she had.
And they depended upon each other. Jill needed Scarlett for medical reasons, and Scarlett needed Jill for her safety.
After many years, Jill found Lydia’s House in St. Louis. Lydia’s House was accepting of Jill and her pet. Jill and Scarlett are now safe and thriving in their own home – together, not torn apart.
What is the biggest challenge that your organization has faced?
Lydia’s House always faces the challenge of providing confidentially located housing. We continue to strive for that goal each and every day to keep our survivors safe.
What makes your organization different from others?
Lydia’s House is the largest provider of stand alone transitional housing to domestic violence survivors in the state of Missouri. We also provide housing for up to two years, which is far longer than emergency shelters.
What drives and inspires you as an organization?
We are constantly inspired by the women and children who desperately need our services to stay alive and well and who use our support to find safe, independent living. They are why we do this.
What makes the work you do so important to the people you serve?
Our important work gives “life” back to women and children who most desperately need our help!
A special thanks to Karen Kirk for participating in this Q & A. Profile prepared by Jennifer Mann of 618 Creative. Photos via Lydia’s House.