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House of Grace teaches life, skills

June 14, 1999

House of GraceBy DON AINES / Staff Writer, Chambersburg

photo: RICHARD T. MEAGHER / staff photographer




CHAMBERSBURG, Pa. - Paula Black reluctantly entered the House of Grace two months ago and has been coming back ever since.

"No matter how I feel, I come out of here with a feeling of peace," said Black, a 32-year-old mother of two young boys. "God is real in this house. He's the one that's doing all this."

Black is among 15 women who have sought counseling and refuge at the House of Grace, 307 Lincoln Way East, since it opened in April. Director Janet Johnston calls it "a Christ-centered life skills and mentoring program."

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"I'm a survivor of domestic violence. I'm starting my whole life over," Black said Monday. She has appointments twice a week to learn housekeeping and other skills, or just to talk.

"I come here sometimes when I don't have an appointment," she said.

"We're Christ-centered, however, you don't have to be Christian or become Christian," Johnston said.

"It's young women, it's old women, it's all women," said Wanda Hutchings, a volunteer support counselor who has been working with Black one-on-one since she came to the nonresidential program.

The House of Grace is a division of Financial Counseling Services, where Black was seeking counseling to get new housing. She said she and her children were homeless when she sought help.

"I can't describe the pain and confusion in my life," she said.

To reduce the confusion, the House of Grace offers women the chance to learn cooking, baking and canning; hygiene, hair care and grooming; sewing, crafts and hobbies; interviewing and resume writing; household cleaning, interior decorating and Bible study, Johnston said.

Child care is provided during the appointments, Johnston said.

"We want to help women become work-ready," Johnston said. At the same time, she said many of the skills they teach are about the home.

"I believe the heart of a woman is in the home. I know a lot of feminists would disagree," Johnston said.

Johnston was a stay-at-home mom for 20 years and has a master's degree in counseling. She spent five years as a case manager with Franklin County human service agencies.

She said the inspiration for the House of Grace "came into my heart" eight years ago. She left county government last year to make that dream a reality.

Churches and others have made donations and the House of Grace has received a grant from Summit Health to help buy new equipment. The rambling Victorian house is being rented with an option to buy and Johnston said they are looking for grants to purchase the property.

Johnston said the help the house offers complements that offered by government agencies and private charitable groups. About 20 volunteers work with the care receivers.

Black said the atmosphere of support is as important as the skills programs.

"My first day here, we all sat around the table drinking coffee," Black said. "I spilled my guts that day."

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